Raye Jean Jordan Montague (1935–2018)
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. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018. 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.”
Raye Jordan was born on January 21, 1935, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Rayford Jordan and Flossie Graves Jordan. She attended St. Bartholomew School before moving to Merrill High School in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), graduating in 1952. She attended Arkansas AM&N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), wanting to study engineering, though because no Arkansas colleges were awarding such degrees to African-American women in the 1950s, she took a degree in business, graduating in 1956.
She was married three times: to Weldon A. Means in 1955, to David H. Montague in 1965, and to James Parrott in 1973. After her marriage to Parrott ended, she returned to the name Montague, the same last name as her only child, David R. Montague.
In 1956, Montague began her career with the navy at the old David Taylor Model Basin (now the Naval Surface Warfare Center) in Carderock, Maryland, as a digital computer systems operator. She later advanced to the position of computer systems analyst at the Naval Ship Engineering Center and served as the program director for the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Integrated Design, Manufacturing, and Maintenance Program as well as the division head for the Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) Program. On January 22, 1984, she accepted the newly created position of deputy program manager of the navy’s Information Systems Improvement Program.
Montague’s career spanned the development of computer technologies, from the UNIVAC I, the world’s first commercially available computer, down to modern computers. She successfully revised the first automated system for selecting and printing ship specifications and produced the first draft for the FFG-7 frigate (the Oliver Hazard Perry–class, or Perry-class, ship) in eighteen hours. This was the first ship designed by computer.
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 worked on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and the navy’s first landing craft helicopter-assault ship (LHA). The last project with which she was affiliated was the Seawolf-class submarine (SSN-21).
Montague retired in 1990. In 2006, after fifty years spent in the metropolitan Washington DC area, she returned to Arkansas, living in west Little Rock, where she remained active with LifeQuest, The Links Inc., the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and the American Contract Bridge League. She also mentored inmates through a community re-entry program through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) as well as students at the eStem Elementary Public Charter School in Little Rock.
Montague died on October 9, 2018, of congestive heart failure. Her son coauthored 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.
For additional information:
Bowers, Paige, and David Montague. Overnight Code: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman Who Revolutionized Naval Engineering. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2021.
Montague, Raye. “Interview with Raye Montague.” January 29, 2009. Audio at Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, Central Arkansas Library System: Raye Montague Interview (accessed January 8, 2021).
Owen, Rhonda. “Raye Jean Jordan Montague.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 16, 2012, pp. 1D, 5D, 8D.
“Pine Bluff, Little Rock Native Honored by Navy Department.” Southern Mediator Journal, February 2, 1973, pp. 1–2.
“Raye Parrott Receives 1978 Manufacturing Engineering Achievement Award.” The Observer, October 12, 1978, pp. 1, 7.
Seelye, Katharine Q. “Raye Montague, the Navy’s ‘Hidden Figure’ Ship Designer, Dies at 83.” New York Times, October 18, 2018. Online at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/18/obituaries/raye-montague-a-navy-hidden-figure-ship-designer-dies-at-83.html (accessed October 24, 2018).
Betty Sorensen Adams
Little Rock, Arkansas
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