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William Claytor

February 13, 2012

Born on January 4th, 1908 in Norfolk Virginia, William Waldron Schiefflin Claytor received his elementary and high school education in public schools in Washington, DC. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Howard University in 1929 and 1930 respectively.  At Howard, he was mentored by Dr. Dudley Woodard Sr., the second African-American in the country to earn a Ph.D in Mathematics, which he received from the University of Pennsylvania. Partially due to Dr. Woodard’s recommendation, William Claytor was admitted to Penn’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, where he pursued a Ph.D. in Mathematics under the guidance of Professor John Kline. While at Penn, Claytor received the Harrison Scholarship in Mathematics and, in his final year, the Harrison Fellowship in Mathematics, which was Penn’s highest honor at the time. In June 1933, Claytor received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania, making him the third African-American in the country to do so. He was succeeded in this achievement by his mentor Dr. Woodard and Dr. Elbert Cox, who had also taught him at Howard.

After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Claytor taught at West Virginia State College for threed years before accepting a post-doctoral position at the University of Michigan, which was funded by a Rosenwald Fellowship. Due to racial discrimination at the time, Claytor failed to receive an offer for a faculty position at a University of Michigan following his post-doc there. He went on to served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he taught Anti-Aircraft Artillery. In 1947, Dr. Claytor was offered a faculty position at Howard University. Having lost his passion for research due to racism experienced earlier in his career, Dr. Claytor’s position chose to focus on teaching only. In fact, during his entire career, Claytor only published two papers, one in 1934 and the other in 1937. Dr. Claytor remained at Howard University until his retirement in 1965, eventually serving as Chair of the department of Mathematics at Howard. William Claytor died in 1965 and in 1980, the National Association of Mathematicians instituted the Claytor Lecture Series in his honor.

Isola Brown, SAS 2012

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