Born: January 21, 1935 in Little Rock, Arkansas
Died: October 9, 2018
Bio: Raye Jean Jordan Montague was an internationally registered professional engineer (RPE) with the U.S. Navy who is credited with the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship. The U.S. Navy’s first female program manager of ships (PMS-309), Information Systems Improvement Program, she held a civilian equivalent rank of captain.
Montague attended Arkansas AM&N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) and wanted to study engineering. However, because no Arkansas colleges were awarding such degrees to African American women in the 1950s, she took a degree in business, graduating in 1956.
In 1972, Montague was awarded the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the navy’s third-highest honorary award. She was the first female professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award (1978) and the National Computer Graphics Association Award for the Advancement of Computer Graphics (1988). She also received a host of other honors from military branches, industry and academia.
Montague retired in 1990. In 2006, after 50 years spent in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area, she returned to Arkansas. In 2017, with the movie Hidden Figures having awakened an awareness of the previously unacknowledged contributions of Black engineers and mathematicians in the American defense and space industries, Montague was featured on the television show Good Morning America and dubbed a “real-life hidden figure.”
Her son co-authored a book about her life, published in 2021. She was also the subject of a 2020 children’s book, The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.
You can learn more about the life of Raye Montague at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.