Dr. William Schieffelin Claytor


Prefix: Dr.
First Name: William
Middle Name: Schieffelin
Last Name: Claytor



Dr. Claytor was the first African American to publish mathematics research.


Birthplace: Norfolk, Virginia

William Waldron Schiefflin Claytor earned his A.B. and M.A. from Howard University under Dudley Weldon Woodard and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (as did Woodard) in 1933. He was the the third African American to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Not counting theses, Dr. Claytor was the first African American to publish mathematics research. In 1937 he was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship and pursued post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan where R.L.Wilder had attracted an able and experienced group of topologists. J. R. Kline, Claytor's thesis advisor, had written Wilder about Claytor's ability. Wilder also found Schiefflin Claytor had great promise as a researcher in mathematics, and helped him obtain a regular faculty position at the University of Michigan; however, when a position opened. U. Michigan would not offer him the position, and the student newspaper took up the issue but to no avail. The mathematician Kline tried to get Dr. Clayor made a Fellow at Princeton University, but Princeton's administration said the students might object to a "culud" person.

Around this time, R. L. Moore was one of the dominant figures of Mathematics in the U.S. Even in the 1960s and 70s he was a racist who prohibited blacks from attending his classes (see [Moore]). In the 1930s and 1940s mathematics was filled with racist mathematicians. Moore's field of Mathematics was Topology, as was Claytor's. Dr. Claytor did make presentations at meetings of the American Mathematical Society, but he was never allowed to stay in the hotel where the meetings were held. Instead, a home of local "culud" persons were found for his his stay. For years afterwards, Kline and others tried to get Claytor to participate in meetings of the American Mathematics Society, but Claytor had soured.

During World War II, Claytor served in the US. Army (1941-1945) where he taught in the field of Anti-Aircraft Artillery from December, 1942 through December 1944. Most likely it was in 1941 that Claytor first met David Blackwell at an army base, Chanute Field, about twenty miles from Urbana, Illinois. The impression Blackwell formed about Claytor's mathematical genius in the first meeting were continuously reinforced over the years, so that in 1947, the year that Blackwell became Chairman of the Mathematics Department at Howard University, Claytor was brought to Howard. Claytor, met and married Dr. Mae Pullins, a lover of Mathematics though her Ph.D. was in Psychology. Claytor remained at Howard until his retirement in 1965.

In 1980, the National Association of Mathematicians instituted the Claytor Lecture. A Lecture series in honor of W. W. Schieffelin Claytor.

Inspite of a 18 to 21 teaching hours per week, and, later, as Chair of the Department of Mathematics at Howard University, Dr. Claytor worked for years as a researcher (I hold some of his research notes), he published but two papers.

Topological Immersion of Peanian Continua in a Spherical surface, Annals of Mathematics 35 (1934), 809-835.

Peanian Continua Not Imbeddable in a Spherical Surface , Annals of Mathematics 38 (1937), 631-636.


References: Ms. Bernice Boddie [cousin to Dr. Claytor], [Donaldson], [Giles], [Miller], [Moore], [Newell], [Taylor],[(photo) Houston NAM History]

For other details on Claytor see the University of Pennsylvania's excellent Claytor and Woodard Website: http://www.math.upenn.edu/History/bh/text99.html.

SUMMA W. S.Claytor web page http://www.maa.org/summa/archive/claytor.htm



Year Born: 1908
Year Deceased: 1967