Elbert Frank Cox

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Elbert Frank Cox
Elbert Cox.jpg
Elbert Cox, 1919
Born 5 December 1895
Evansville, Indiana
Died 28 November 1969 (1969-11-29) (aged 73)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Alma mater Indiana, Cornell
Known for Generalised Euler polynomials, generalised Boole summation formula
Spouse(s) Beulah Kaufman
Children James, Eugene Kaufman, Elbert Lucien, Kenneth
Scientific career
Fields Mathematics
Institutions West Virginia State College, Howard University
Doctoral advisor William Lloyd Garrison Williams

Elbert Frank Cox (December 5, 1895 – November 28, 1969) was an American mathematician. He was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics. He spent most of his life as a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C..

The National Association of Mathematicians established the Cox-Talbot Address in his honor, which is annually delivered at the NAM's national meetings. The Elbert F. Cox Scholarship Fund, which is used to help black students pursue studies, is also named after him. After he graduated in 1917, Cox joined the U.S. Army to fight in World War I. After he was discharged from the Army, he began his career as a high school math tutor.


Besides mathematics, Cox also took courses in German, English, Latin, history, hygiene, chemistry, education, philosophy and physics. Cox's brother Avalon was at Indiana University as well. There were three other black students in his class. He received his bachelor's degree in 1917, at a time when the transcript of every black student had the word "COLORED" printed across it.

After serving in the US Army in France during World War I, he returned to pursue a career in teaching, as an instructor of mathematics at a high school in Henderson, Kentucky. In December 1921 he applied for admission to Cornell University, one of seven American universities with a doctoral program in mathematics. One of his references wrote a positive letter followed by another letter anticipating difficulties for him because he was a colored man.[1] Fox was awarded his PhD by Cornell in 1925, for his dissertation, The polynomial solutions of the difference equation af(x+1) + bf(x) = [Phi](x).[2]

West Virginia State College

On September 16, 1925, Cox began teaching mathematics and physics at the then all-black, poorly funded West Virginia State College. Professors with a Ph.D. were rare there, and his international connections made him stand out as well. He received a salary of $1800. His influence can be seen in the large number of changes in the curriculum between 1925 and 1928. In 1927, he married Beulah Kaufman, the daughter of a former slave. She was a teacher at an elementary school, and worked with Cox' brother Avalon. He and Beulah had met in 1921 and had courted for six years. Their first child, James, was born in 1928. In 1929, he joined Howard University and moved to Washington, D.C..

Howard University

Cox started to teach at Howard University in September 1930. Despite his credentials, he was outranked by other professors such as William Bauduit and Charles Syphax. Both had published multiple papers; it was only now that Cox published his graduation paper. Williams, his supervisor, tried to pursue recognition for Cox from a university in another country, but had difficulties in doing so. Different universities in England and Germany refused to consider his thesis, but the Tohoku Imperial University in Sendai, Japan did recognize it. It was published in the Tôhoku Mathematical Journal in 1934 [1]. He was, however, very active in teaching: the university's president, James M. Nabrit, remarked that Cox had directed more Master's Degree students than any other professor at Howard University. His students also performed better than those of other professors, and he was a popular professor. Among his students was his son Elbert Lucien Cox. Cox was promoted to professor in 1947. In 1954 he became head of the Department of Mathematics, a position which he held until 1961, when he retired at the age of 65, three years before his death. Cox's portrait hangs in Howard University's common room.

During his life, Cox published two articles. He expanded on the work Niels Nörlund had done on Euler polynomials as a solution to a particular difference equation[2]. Cox used generalised Euler polynomials and the generalised Boole summation formula to expand on the Boole summation formula. He also studied a number of specialised polynomials as solutions for certain differential equations. In his other paper, published in 1947, he mathematically compared three systems of grading.[3]


Elbert and Beulah Cox had four children: James born 1928, Eugene Kaufman born 1930, Elbert Lucien born 1933, and Kenneth, born 1935 but died at the age of 17 months.[3]


  1. ^ http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/PEEPS/cox_elbertf.html
  2. ^ Cox, Elbert Frank (1925). The polynomial solutions of the difference equation af(x+1) + bf(x) = [Phi](x). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. Retrieved 8 April 2017. 
  3. ^ Elbert Frank Cox - Web Poster Wizard

Sources and further reading

  • ^ E.F. Cox (1934). "The polynomial solutions of the difference equation af(x+1) + bf(x) = φ(x)". Tôhoku Mathematical Journal. First series. 39: 327–348. 
  • ^ E.F. Cox (1947). "On a class of interpolation functions for a system of grading". Journal of Experimental Education. 15: 331–341. 
  • "Elbert Cox". University of St. Andrews on Elbert Cox. Retrieved October 2, 2005. 
  • "Elbert Frank Cox". the Mathematical Association of America. Retrieved October 2, 2005. 
  • "Elbert Frank Cox, first Black to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics". Mathematicians of the African Diaspora. Retrieved October 2, 2005. 
  • "Math department honors Elbert Cox". Cornell University. Retrieved October 2, 2005. 
  • James A. Donaldson, Richard J. Fleming (2000). "Elbert F. Cox: an early pioneer". American Mathematical Monthly. Mathematical Association of America. 107 (2): 105–128. doi:10.2307/2589433. JSTOR 2589433. 
  • 4 more references for further reading
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