Raised in a well-established family in Washington D.C. offered Dr. (Martha) Euphemia Lofton Haynes many benefits not common for African Americans in the early 20th century. A look into her life of achievements shows that not only did she take advantage of these rare opportunities, particularly in her education, but she also strived to make benefits available to those less fortunate than she. Dr. Haynes graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1907 from the segregated M Street High School, which was one of the first black high schools in the US. Somewhat ironically, the segregation at the time and the lack of professional opportunities for African American educators provided that students, like Euphemia, at M Street High School had a first-class education from some of the most prominent and learned black educators in the nation’s capital. Dr. Haynes went on to graduate from Minor Normal School in 1909 and while working as an elementary school teacher earned a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Smith College in 1914. She then earned her Master’s in education in 1930 from the University of Chicago. And in 1943, at the age of 53, Dr. Haynes became the first African American woman to earn a PhD in Mathematics (Catholic University of America).
Primarily an educator, in a career spanning 47 years in the D.C. public school system, Dr. Haynes taught in all levels of schooling, from first grade teacher to Professor of Mathematics. She established and chaired the mathematics department at Miner Teachers College, a segregated college, in 1930 and eventually maintained the position when the school merged after desegregation into the D.C. Teachers College. During that span, she also served as a part time lecturer at Howard University. She retired in 1959.
Haynes was equally prolific in her work as a public servant. Most notably, she served on the D.C. school board from 1960-1968, becoming the first African American woman board president in 1966-1967. During her tenure on the board, Dr. Haynes successfully fought for the dissolution of the track system (established in D.C. after desegregation in 1959). The track system was intended to put students on a particular educational track that best suited their abilities, but Dr. Haynes noted that, in practice, it served to limit educational opportunities for poor students and students of color. She criticized that “a school experience which insures no contact of ‘my’ group with ‘that’ group and preserves the attitude of ‘we’ and ‘they’ cannot lead to a unified citizenry, working towards the same goals.” Haynes’ and others’ efforts culminated in a 1967 ruling that the track system was unconstitutionally discriminatory to students of color and the poor.
Dr. Haynes’ numerous voluntary endeavors include efforts in the USO, NAACP, the Urban League, the National Committee of Girl Scouts, serving as president of the National Association of College Women–DC Branch, as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, many local causes, and so much more. As a life-long Catholic she participated in and led numerous Catholic related charities and organizations. She received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope John XXIII in 1959 for her devotion to Catholic causes. As most of these activities occurred after her retirement, Dr. Haynes definitely lived up to her idea that one should view the “[c]oncept of retirement—[n]ot as a termination, but as a new challenge or opportunity.”
Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes died in 1980 at 89 years old and established a trust of $700,000 for the Catholic University of America’s education department. The university, in turn, created the Euphemia Haynes Chair in the Department of Education. She continues to be honored at the university which established the Euphemia Lofton Haynes award in Mathematics in 2018.