DVIDS

Raye Montague: Ship designer, computer whiz and breaker of glass ceilings

February 8, 2019
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You may not know why Raye Montague is an important figure in the history of the United States Navy, but you should.

She shattered glass ceilings and broke both racial and gender stereotypes her entire life.

But, her story remained largely unknown except among her Navy colleagues, where she enjoys rock star status. Montague is credited with creating the first computer-generated rough design of a ship in 18 hours and 46 minutes.

"And, for that my career just took off," she recalled in an interview with DVIDS.

Thanks to the 2016 motion picture "Hidden Figures," which detailed the real-life story of how three African-American women helped John Glenn get into space, Montague's story has garnered an increasing amount of both attention and respect inside and outside the military community.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas on January 21, 1935, Montague said her mother gave her the confidence to pursue both her educational and professional dreams.

"My mother told me you'll have three strikes against you," she said. "First, you're female and you're black and you have a southern, segregated school education. But, you can do or be anything you want to be."

Montague's friends laughed at her when she told them she wanted to be an engineer.

"One of my teachers said, `Raye, think of the stars and the very worse you'll land on the moon,'" she said.

Montague earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business from the Arkansas Agricultural Mechanical and Normal College in 1956. The school today is known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Montague wanted to attend the University of Arkansas' engineering school, but the institution did not accept minority students at that time.

The day after she graduated from college, Montague headed to Washington, D.C. The first organization to call her in for a job interview was the Department of the Navy. She would spend 33 years as a civilian employee of the sea service, beginning in the typically female role of clerk typist. But she moved up the ladder, learning everything she could about engineering on the job. She attended classes at night to learn about computer programming.

Photo by Stacia Courtney Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division

It was while Richard Nixon was president that Montague and her department were given a month to develop a ship using a computer system she developed. They completed the task in less than a day.

"I had revolutionized the design process for all naval ships and submarines," she said.

Montague shattered many other glass ceilings. She was the first female program director at the Naval Sea Systems Command's Integrated Design, Manufacturing and Maintenance Program, the division head for the Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing Program, and the deputy program manager for the Information Systems Improvement Program.

"I had five field activities reporting to me," she said. "I had a staff of roughly 250 people."

Montague told Good Morning America in 2017 that she always said "no" when asked if she was the first female to achieve what she did when it came to Navy ship design.

"I was the first person and that's important," she said.

Montague passed away due to congestive heart failure on October 10, 2018, at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock.

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