Gertrude M. Cox
Born January 13, 1900, in Dayton, Iowa, Gertrude M. Cox reflected the
upbringing of the times and location. She was instilled with ethics, moral
courage, and determination. This, combined with her grand dreams and the
genius and tenacity to materialize them, resulted in legendary accomplishments
and awed those who knew her. Her exceptional organizational ability and
her realization that statistics needed to be made practical for those
working in agricultural and biological research led to her bridging the
gap between theoreticians and research workers.
Initially, Cox prepared to become a deaconess in the Methodist Episcopal
church, but she decided to pursue a more academic life, receiving her
B.S. degree in mathematics from Iowa State College in 1929. She received
the first master's degree awarded in statistics from Iowa State College
in 1931. From 1931 to 1933 she studied psychological statistics and was
a graduate assistant at the University of California, Berkeley. She returned
to Iowa in 1933 to assist George Snedecor by heading the newly created
Statistical Laboratory, and she was made a research assistant professor
in 1939. During this period she did graduate work in statistics and began
her research on experimental design. She also assembled a series of notes
on standard designs, which eventually led to the book Experimental Designs,
cowritten by William G. Cochran and published in 1950.
In 1940 she was appointed to organize and head a Department of Experimental
Statistics in the School of Agriculture at North Carolina State College
in Raleigh-the result of a footnote in a letter from Snedecor to North
Carolina State College, in which he recommended five men. He added, "Of
course if you would consider a woman for this position I would recommend
Gertrude Cox of my staff." In January 1941, the department was established
with Cox as the first female full professor and first female department
head at North Carolina State College, a propitious choice that changed
the course of statistics in North Carolina.
An Institute of Statistics was established at North Carolina State College
in 1944, with Cox as its director. She continued as head of the department
as well until 1949 and added many new faculty members, including Cochran.
She recruited Harold Hotelling to head the new Department of Mathematical
Statistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1946.
And in 1949, she helped to establish the Department of Biostatistics in
the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, with Bernard G. Greenberg as head. All three departments flourished
under her directorship of the institute, producing many of the statistical
leaders and department heads of today. Her skill as an administrator was
unsurpassed. She employed outstanding faculty and staff and left them
to their teaching and research while she raised funds. In addition to
her administrative duties, Cox continued to teach, drawing on her many
years of consulting to produce practical real-life examples designed to
illustrate experimental designs, all of which were flawlessly computed
before the age of computers.
Cox's zeal at the institute led to many spin-off facilities in
North Carolina. In the 1950s she was a moving force in planning for what
is now the Research Triangle Institute (RTI). She retired from her faculty
position at North Carolina State University and the institute in 1960 and
organized and be-came the first head of the RTI's Statistics Research Division.
In 1965, she retired for the second time and served as a consultant to the
RTI and governmental agencies. At this juncture, she also turned her energies
to the international front, promoting statistical activities in Egypt and
She took 23 international trips and, during her "retirement," received
many U.S. and foreign visitors in Raleigh, North Carolina-people who came
to visit her and the many facilities in the RTI area, which she helped to
Cox's contributions include active participation in statistical societies
and organizations. In 1945, she became the first editor (for 11 years) of
the Biometrics Bulletin of the Biometric Section of the American Statistical
Association (later called Biometrics, the journal of the Biometric Society).
In 1947 she founded the Biometric Society. She was president of ASA in 1956
and of the Biometric Society in 1968 and 1969.
She received many honors in her lifetime, a few of which
are mentioned here. In 1944, she was made a Fellow of the ASA and the
Institute of Mathematical Statistics. In 1949 she became the first female
elected into the International Statistical Institute. In 1957, she was
made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and in 1958
she was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from Iowa State University.
In 1970, Cox Hall, the current home of the Department of Statistics, was
dedicated at North Carolina State University. In 1975 she was elected
to the National Academy Of Sciences. In 1977 a $200,000 Gertrude M. Cox
Fellowship fund was established in her honor at North Carolina State University.
In 1987, the Gertrude M. Cox Scholarship fund was established by the Caucus
for Women in Statistics and the COWIS. In 1989, at the ASA sesquicentennial
meeting, the first awards were made to four recipients.
In addition to her professional achievements, Cox was known
for the personal interest she took in relatives, friends, and wives and
children of faculty and staff. The memory books in the Department of Statistics
at North Carolina State University hold many remembrances of her tenure
there, from newspaper clippings of awards to the department to wedding
invitations for staff and Christmas cards sent and received. Cox died
of leukemia October 17, 1978. In a memorial article, three of her colleagues
said, "To those of us who were fortunate to be with her through so
many years, Raleigh will never be the same" (Anderson et al. 1979).
Perhaps the statistical world will never be the same.
-from The American Statistician, May 1990, Vol. 44, No. 2.