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A Brief History of the MAA

By Tina H. Straley

The history of the MAA begins with the founding of the American Mathematical Monthly in 1894 by Benjamin Finkel, a schoolteacher. Although the journal originally aimed to address the needs of secondary mathematics teachers, it became more popular among college mathematics faculty.

In 1914, Monthly managing editor H.E. Slaught (University of Chicago), realizing that the Monthly needed more stable financial support, began a campaign to bring the Monthly to the American Mathematical Society. On April 23, 1915, the Council voted, three to two, not to take responsibility for the Monthly. The final resolution stated,

It is deemed unwise for the American Mathematical Society to enter into the activities of the special field now covered by the American Mathematical Monthly; but the Council desires to express its realization of the importance of the work in this field and its value to mathematical science, and to say that should an organization be formed to deal specifically with this work, the Society would entertain toward such an organization only feelings of hearty good will and encouragement.

A self-appointed committee solicited reactions to the idea of forming a new association. In June, H.E. Slaught sent out a letter requiring the return of a postcard stating interest in a new association. In response, 450 people expressed interest in attending an organizational meeting. In October, he wrote in the Monthly about the need to bridge the gap between secondary mathematics and pure mathematics research with a society to promote collegiate mathematics and announced a December meeting.

On December 30-31, 1915, E.R. Hedrick (University of Missouri) presided over a meeting of 104 people. Organizational matters were settled in three hours, but the name was left for a committee to decide. Out of the 18 suggestions considered, each of the three committee members independently selected the Mathematical Association of America.

The nominating committee chose Hedrick as president and E.V. Huntington (Harvard) as vice president. They were elected with an executive council of 12 members (three from the East, three from the far West, and six from the Midwest). Almost immediately, sections formed and requested recognition. By the end of 1916, the MAA had more than a thousand individual members. In 1920, the MAA was incorporated in Illinois in order to receive donations and bequests.

In those early days, the structure of the MAA was like that of a club. Its main function was the publication of the Monthly. There was one standing committee, the Committee on Sections.

MAA Individual Memberships over the First 50 Years

The MAA has grown considerably in a little less than one hundred years into a complex organization.

The organization is managed by a headquarters staff of 34 people and a staff in Nebraska of nine people.

American Mathematical Monthly articles from the beginning of the MAA

"Progress of the Association" (1916)

"A Tentative Platform of the Association" (1916), E.R. Hedrick

"The Mathematical Association of America" (1916), W.D. Cairnsâ??article detailing the December 1915 founding meeting of the MAA

"The Promotion of Collegiate Mathematics" (1915), H.E. Slaughtâ??article explaining intention to create a new society and announcing the founding meeting

Revised October 7, 2010.