To wrap up Women’s History Month, we celebrate University of Idaho Math Professor Elna Grahn. Born Elna Hilliard in 1913, Elna received her both bachelors and masters in math from the University of Wisconsin. Elna joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later the Women’s Army Corps, and served on active duty during World War II. From 1942-43, she headed a secret army experiment to test women’s usefulness in military defense and anti-aircraft batteries. After the experiment was declassified, Elna published a book on her experiences in the WAC called In The Company of WACS.
Elna began teaching at the University in 1947 as a math instructor, taking breaks from 1949-54 to work on doctoral studies at Stanford, get married, and continue military service. She returned to the University of Idaho in 1954 and quickly rose to supervisor for freshman and graduate assistants math courses. She wrote articles in the Mathematics departmental newsletter highlighting the curriculum in the hopes it will “challenge all students to the point of their achieving at the highest level commensurate with their abilities and backgrounds.” (page 9 of newsletter below) Elna was also instrumental in developing a Mathematics Laboratory to help students study.
Elna was one of the first professors to teach on closed circuit TV, providing math classes for distance learning from 1962 to her retirement as Professor Emerita in 1969. After retirement, Elna remained active in Moscow and national organizations. She was an active member in the American Association of University Women (AAUW), including being elected to President of the Idaho Chapter in 1968-70. She was also active in the Idaho Commission of Women’s Programs, helped to create both the Friends of KUID and Volunteers in Moscow, served as President of the Moscow League of Women Voters, and volunteered and served on numerous other causes and committees.
Moscow-Pullman Daily News Obituary for Elna Jane Hilliard Grahn, accessed 30 March 2021.
AAUW of Idaho About page, accessed 30 March 2021.