Jessie MacWilliams

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Florence Jessie MacWilliams
Born(1917-01-04)January 4, 1917
DiedMay 27, 1990(1990-05-27) (aged 73)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge, BA, 1938, MA, 1939, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, PhD under Andrew Gleason
OccupationMathematician, programmer
EmployerBell Labs
Known forThe MacWilliams identities in coding theory
Notable work
The Theory of Error-Correcting Codes, with Neil Sloane
ChildrenDaughter Anne, two sons

Florence Jessie MacWilliams (4 January 1917 – 27 May 1990) was an English mathematician who contributed to the field of coding theory.

Education and career[edit]

MacWilliams was born in Stoke-on-Trent, England and studied at the University of Cambridge, receiving her BA in 1938 and her MA in the following year.[1] She moved to the United States in 1939 and studied at Johns Hopkins University. One year later she left Johns Hopkins for Harvard University.

In 1955 she became a programmer and learned coding theory at Bell Labs where she spent most of her career. Although she did major research at Bell Labs, she was denied a promotion to a mathematics research position until she received a Ph.D. She would proceed to fulfill some of the PhD's requirements while working at Bell Labs and taking care of her family, but she completed her PhD after returning to Harvard for one more year (1961–1962), under the supervision of Andrew Gleason.[2][3] She and her daughter Anne were both studying mathematics at Harvard that year.


MacWilliams worked on error-correcting codes and co-wrote The Theory of Error-Correcting Codes with Neil Sloane. "MacWilliams also worked on cyclic codes, generalizing them to abelian group codes. With H. B. Mann, she solved a difficult problem involving certain design matrices."[4]

She is known for the MacWilliams identities in coding theory.[1]


In 1980 she was the first Noether Lecturer.[4]


  1. ^ a b "F. Jessie MacWilliams", Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College, retrieved 2013-04-05.
  2. ^ Pollak, H. O. (February 1996), "Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Andrew Gleason", American Mathematical Monthly, 103 (2): 105–106, doi:10.1080/00029890.1996.12004708, JSTOR 2975102.
  3. ^ Florence Jessie MacWilliams at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  4. ^ a b "Profiles of Women in Mathematics: F. Jessie MacWilliams". Association for Women in Mathematics. 2005. Archived from the original on 2014-01-06. Retrieved 2013-11-05.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gallian, Joseph A. (2006). Contemporary Abstract Algebra (Sixth ed.). Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-51471-6.