Etta Zuber Falconer


First Name: Etta
Middle Name: Zuber
Last Name: Falconer


College: Emory University
Degree: Ph.D.
Graduation Year: 1969

Degree: M.S.
Graduation Year: 1954
Major: Mathematics

College: Fisk University
Degree: B.A.
Graduation Year: 1953
Major: Mathematics


One of the first African American women to have received a Ph.D in mathematics. Coupled with her lifelong commitment to learning was her lifelong commitment to assisting and providing mathematics and science education for aspiring youth, especially African American Women.


Birthplace: Tupelo, Mississippi

In 2002, Dr. Falconer ret red as Callaway Professor of Mathematics and Associate Provost for Science Programs and Policy, Spelman College

Etta Falconer was born in Tupelo, Mississippi as Etta Zuber, the second of two children (an older sister Alice) born to Dr. Walter A. Zuber, a physician and Mrs. Zadie L. Montgomery Zuber, a musician who had attended Spelman College. She attended public schools in Tupelo, graduating from George Washington High School in 1949. She attended Fisk University, graduating summa sum laude with a major in mathematics and a minor in chemistry (1953). She was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Immediately following graduation from college, she attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison where she earned the MS degree in Mathematics (1954).

"Can you imagine what it was like for a 19 year old Black female from Tupelo, Missippi who had been immersed in segregation for all her life to attend the University of Wisconsin I underwent a major culture shock. ... I gravitated to students from Africa, a roomate from Thailand, and an office-mate from India, who was the only person to whom I could ask a mathematics question."

Dr. Falconner was taught and inspired by Evelyn Boyd Granville and Lee Lorch. She has said (1995), "My entire career has been devoted to increasing the number of African American women in mathematics and mathematics-related careers."

Etta Zuber began her teaching career in 1954 at Okolona Junior College in Okolona, Mississippi where she remained until 1963. High School in Chattanooga, TN. While working at Okona Junior College, Etta met and married Dolan Falconer.

After a few years of teaching at the junior college/college level, she entered Emory University in Atlanta. In 1969 she became the 10th African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (from Emory University) with an Algebra dissertation entitled: "Quasi group Identities Invariant under Isotopy."

Dr. Falconer was Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Spelman college (1965-71), Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Norfolk State college (1971-72), and Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Mathematics Spelman College). Additional formal studies include earning a Master's Degree in Computer Science from Atlanta University (1982); attending the University of Illinois-Champange-Urbana during the summers of 1962-1965 and during the 1964-65 academic year at a National Science Foundation (NSF) Teacher Training Institute; and she attended the University of California-Santa Barbara (summer of 1980) - a workshop on "The Integration of Micro-Computers into the the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum."

Professor Falconer was chiefly concerned with the preparation of undergraduates for success in graduate school. In 1987 she introduced the NASA Women in Science Program started in 1987, NASA Undergraduate Science Research Program, and the College Honors Program at Spelman College. From the first class of NASA graduates, five entered graduate programs in applied mathematics (Brown University), mathematics (University of Maryland), operations research (Georgia Tech), chemistry (University of Florida), and medicine (Baylor College of Medicine).

From Lee Lorch,

With great sadness and a sense of deep personal loss, I inform you of the death of Dr. Etta Zuber Falconer on September 19, 2002. Possessed of great talent, limitless courage, uncompromising honesty, enormous kindness, remarkable insight, quiet modesty, she made enduring selfless contributions. We are all the poorer by her death, the richer by her life.


In 1995, Etta Zuber Falconer was awarded the AWM Louise Hay Award given to celebrate outstanding achievements in mathematics education. In response to being awarded the Hay award, Falconer said, "I have devoted my entire life to increasing the number of highly qualified African Americans in mathematics and mathematics related careers. High expectations, the building of self confidence, and the creation of a nurturing environment have been essential components for the success of these students. They have fully justified my beliefs. Perhaps the most rewarding moments have come when younger faculty have undertaken the same goal and have surpassed my efforts - reaching out to the broader community to help minorities and women achieve in mathematics."

In 1999, Falconer was elected by the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a fellow of the AAAS.


Dr. Falconner has author several papers on the education of minorities in mathematics. Those most recent is The Challenge of Diversity, DIMACS 34 (1996) American Mathematics Society, 169-182.

References: Newell, Black Mathematicians and their Works; Kenschaft, Black Women in Mathematics in the United States, [AWM Newsletter, Vol. 25, No. 2, March-April 1995, 3-4.], [FOCUS, V.19, No.9 (December, 1999) 8]

SUMMA Etta Falconer web page:

Women Mathematcians Falconer web page:

CNN Falconer web page:


In 2001, Etta Falconer won, along with Dr. James H.M.N. Henderson from Tuskegee, the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award.



Year Born: 1933
Year Deceased: 2002