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Arnold Dresden, 1933-1934 MAA President

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Born: November 23, 1882, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: April 10, 1954, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Arnold Dresden was a mathematics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at Swarthmore College.

Presidency: 1933-1934

As president, Dresden gave two popular lectures at the joint meetings of the Louisiana-Mississippi sections of the MAA and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The report on the meetings also noted his contributions to discussions among members.

Dresden responded to "the unrest and the dissatisfaction with the teaching of mathematics in the schools and the colleges, which are making themselves felt with increasing strength throughout the land" in his retiring presidential address "A Program for Mathematics" on December 31, 1934. He outlined his thoughts on the importance of mathematics and its place in curricula, focusing on imbuing the teaching of elementary mathematics with a stronger sense of the nature of advanced mathematics – specifically, "the abstract character of its content and the deductive nature of its methods," as well as existence theorems – which he identified as the aspects of mathematics that make it "devoted in a very real way to the highest aspirations of mankind."

Education and Career

Dresden attended three years of college in the Netherlands before immigrating to the United States at age 21. Many years later, he published "The Migration of Mathematicians," about mathematicians who had immigrated to the United States between 1933 and 1942. He worked as a high school teacher and in other jobs until 1905, when he could afford to enroll in graduate study at the University of Chicago.

After earning his Ph.D. in 1909, Dresden taught mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for eighteen years. During this time, he strongly supported the creation of a new mathematical association for collegiate mathematics, the MAA, in response to Slaught's 1915 call for feedback on the idea.

In 1927, he moved to Swarthmore College, where he was a professor until he retired in 1952. At Swarthmore, he designed an honors program for juniors and seniors, consisting of four mathematics seminars and two seminars in each of two minors, that served as a model for honors programs at other small liberal arts colleges.

Dresden's 1936 book An Invitation to Mathematics presented advanced mathematics for an audience with mathematics background limited to high school algebra and plane geometry. It garnered critical acclaim but was not commercially successful.

Dresden served as vice president of the MAA in 1931 and on the board of governors of the MAA in 1935-1940 and 1943-1945. He represented the MAA at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meeting in Philadelphia in March 1947.

External Resources

In the Shadow of Giants: A Section of American Mathematicians, 1925-1950 by David Zitarelli

"Rank and File American Mathematicians" (pdf) by David Zitarelli

Records of editors, presidents, and secretaries from MAA headquarters, Arnold Dresden, 1932-1950 at the Archives of American Mathematics

The Mathematics Genealogy Project