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Raymond Louis Wilder, 1965-1966 MAA President

Born: November 3, 1896, Palmer, Massachusetts
Died: July 7, 1982, Santa Barbara, California

Raymond Louis Wilder was a mathematics professor with interests in topology, the foundations of mathematics, and the cultural history of mathematics.

Presidency: 1965-1966

At the 1965 annual meeting, the MAA board of governors created the Lester R. Ford Award for excellent expository articles in the American Mathematical Monthly and Mathematics Magazine.

At the 1965 summer meeting, the MAA held a banquet to honor the charter members of the MAA, eighteen of whom attended, with 215 invited guests. Wilder spoke at the event.

Education and Career

Wilder earned bachelor's (1920) and master's (1921) degrees in actuarial mathematics at Brown University, and he went to the University of Texas at Austin aiming to continue his actuarial studies at the doctoral level.

There, R.L. Moore initially denied him admission to his topology class. Wilder persisted and took the class. Moore continued to expect little of him due to his academic background and ignored him until he proved difficult theorems.

Eventually, while still studying actuarial science, Wilder solved a problem that had stumped J.R. Kline and others. When Moore heard, he urged Wilder to write it up as a thesis, and Wilder graduated with a Ph.D. in topology the same year (despite having missed deadlines for language and qualifying exams – Moore's prestige at the University of Texas superseded these requirements). In this way, Wilder became Moore's first Ph.D. student at the University of Texas in 1923.

In 1924, Wilder joined the Ohio State University as an assistant professor. Two years later, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he spent the majority of his academic career and supervised 25 doctoral theses. Wilder taught a course on the foundations of mathematics that appealed to students with non-mathematical interests and became one of the most popular courses on campus. He was a Henry Russel Lecturer. In his honor, the University of Michigan held a conference in 1966 and established a Raymond L. Wilder Professorship of Mathematics.

Wilder retired from Michigan in 1967 and moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara, lecturing in 1970-71 and holding a research associateship until he died in 1982.

Wilder's mathematical writing includes more than 70 papers and three books, primarily on topology. He also maintained interests in the history and anthropology of mathematics, as evidenced not only by his popular foundations course but also by his address at the 1950 International Congress of Mathematicians on "The Cultural Basis of Mathematics" and his 1969 American Mathematical Society (AMS) Gibbs Lecture on "Trends and Social Implications of Research."

Wilder was president of the AMS in 1955-56. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1973, he received two MAA awards: the Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award and the Lester R. Ford Award, for "History in the Mathematics Curriculum: Its Status, Equality, and Function."

External Resources

MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive biography

AMS Presidents Timeline biography

New York Times obituary

National Academy of Sciences biographical memoir

Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award citation by R.H. Bing

"Reminiscences of Mathematics at Michigan" by Wilder

Raymond Louis Wilder Papers, 1914-1982 at the Archives of American Mathematics

Records of editors, presidents, and secretaries from MAA headquarters, Raymond L. Wilder, 1963-1967, president 1965-1966 at the Archives of American Mathematics

Students of R.L. Moore

The Mathematics Genealogy Project

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