Raye Jean Jordan Montague, who revolutionized naval ship design by using a computer, died October 10th at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. She suffered from congestive heart failure.
Montague is credited with the first computer design of a U.S. Navy Frigate, a type of warship, in 1971.
Although computers are ubiquitous today, in the early 1970s, they weren’t. Montague designed the ship in 18 hours and 56 minutes. Her design revolutionized Navy ship design, paving the way for promotions for a woman hired as a clerk typist.
She became the first woman program manager of ships in the U.S. Navy.
Montague grew up in the segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, a hotbed of racism. The state also had history of violence towards blacks, often organizing mass lynchings of black sharecroppers who demanded higher prices for their crops.
President Dwight Eisenhower ordered troops deployed to Little Rock in 1957 to protect from angry and violent white mobs black students who were desegregating Central High School.
After high school, she enrolled at Arkansas AM&N, now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, where she said she wanted to study engineering, which elicited ridicule and laughter from her fellow students.
At the time no Arkansas colleges were awarding degrees in engineering to African-American women. She changed her major, earning a degree in business in 1956.
Montague began her Naval career in 1956 as a clerk typist at the David Taylor Model Basin, now Naval Surface Warfare Center, in Carderock, Maryland.
She continued to rise through ranks by teaching herself computer programming and learning more about Navy ships. Her boss gave her a job he was sure she couldn’t do.
“The admirals came to me and said, ‘young lady, we understand you’ve got a system to design ships. The president has given us two months. We can give you a month, Can you do it’ “, she said.
She successfully revised the first automated system for selecting and printing ship specifications, producing a draft for FFG-7 frigate, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class or Perry class ship. It was the first time a ship had been designed by computer. She completed the design in a little over 18 hours. She also help design the Seawolf-class submarine.
Her career spanned the development of computer technologies, from UNIVAC I, the world’s first commercially available computer.
In 1978, she was the first woman professional engineer to receive the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award and the National Computer Graphics Association Award for the Advancement of Computer Graphics.
Montague, who retired in 1990, was married three times and had one son. She was active in the Links and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She is a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.