Dr. Evelyn Merle Nelson was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1943. Her parents were Russian immigrants who had settled down in Canada. They were very supportive of their daughter entering the field of mathematics, even though it was difficult for women to get into it at the time. They wanted to support her financially as well, but they didn’t need to because she kept getting scholarships. She attended grade thirteen at Westdale High School in Hamilton and then went on to attend the honors Mathematics-Physics-Chemistry program at the University of Toronto.
After two years there she ended up back in Hamilton to attend McMaster, where she completed the rest of her education. She got her Bachelor of Science in mathematics in 1965 (graduating at the top of her class). She then completed her Masters in mathematics in 1967. Her thesis was “A finiteness criterion for partially ordered semigroups and its application to Universal Algebra”, which ended up being her first published paper (It was published in the Canadian Journal of Mathematics). She also completed her Ph.D in 1970 at McMaster but she decided to do it in four years instead of two. She gave birth to her first daughter while writing her thesis for her doctorate. This thesis was “The lattice of equational classes of commutative semigroups”, which was also published in the Canadian Journal of Mathematics.