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Considered by many as a gifted mathematician, Maria Daniel Graham was born in 1876 to Mr. and Mrs. John Graham in Warrenton, Warren County, North Carolina. She received her early schooling at the Warrenton Academy, where her father served as the headmaster. After graduating from the academy, she attended George Peabody College, a teacher training school in Nashville, Tennessee, where she completed her studies in spring 1895. From 1895 to 1909, she taught Greek and mathematics at rural schools in Oakville, Shelby County, Tennessee (since annexed by Memphis) and in Goldsboro, Wayne County, North Carolina.
When Thomas J. Jarvis was charged with selecting the first three faculty members to open East Carolina Teacher Training School in 1909, he chose Graham to serve as head of the new mathematics department. Graham remained in the mathematics department for thirty-six years, eighteen of which she served as the chair of the department. While employed at East Carolina, she earned a master’s degree in 1925 from Columbia University during a one year leave of absence.
A lifelong lover of education, she studied pedagogy, classics, math, and history at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan during her tenure in Greenville. Graham’s family held a prominent place in the educational history of North Carolina. Her uncle, Alexander Graham, was the superintendent of Charlotte city schools and was a leader in education for fifty years. Two of her cousins, Edward Kidder Graham and Frank Porter Graham were well-known presidents of the University of North Carolina. Another cousin, Mary O. Graham, served as President of Peace College in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. Her brother, Major W. A. Graham was a prominent superintendent in both Wilmington and Kinston.
While in Greenville, Graham joined several societies and councils. She was a member of the Alumni Advisory Council, the Social Activities Committee, and acted as chair of the Student Loan Fund. Graham also helped organize the YWCA, and was the chair of its advisory committee for twelve years. On October 18, 1920, she seconded the motion made by Miss Sallie Davis that “we go on four-year basis and grant degrees.” She was an adviser of the Edgar Alan Poe Literary Society and helped with the Homecoming and Course of Study Committees.
Loved by her students for her sympathy and the many hours she spent dedicated to helping others, Graham retired on June 3, 1945. She returned her hometown of Warrenton, where she lived for two years until her death on April 1, 1947. She is buried at the Ridgeway Cemetery in Warrenton.
Originally constructed along Wright Circle in 1929, the Maria D. Graham Building was dedicated to her memory in 1949 and today houses the Department of Geology. It formerly served as host to the departments of foreign languages, science, education, and geography. A clock bequeathed by the Class of 1993 stands near the front entrance.