A Brief History of the MAA
Tina H. Straley
First there was the American Mathematical Monthly, founded in 1894 by Benjamin Finkel, a schoolteacher at the Kidder Institute in Missouri. He decided to publish a journal suitable to the needs of teachers of mathematics due to the deplorable conditions in the high schools. Finkel wrote "Most of our existing journals deal almost exclusively with subjects beyond the reach of the average student or teacher of mathematics or at least with subjects with which they are familiar, and little, if any, space, is devoted to the solution of problems…No pains will be spared on the part of the Editors to make this the most interesting and most popular journal published in America." Part of Finkel's plan was a failure; few high school teachers subscribed. But he had the foresight to enlist the help of university mathematics faculty, like EH Moore of Chicago. The Monthly resonated with the college mathematics faculty very well.
From 1913 to 1916, H. E. Slaught of Chicago, as managing editor of the Monthly, enlisted support for its publication from a group of 14 Western and Midwestern universities. He realized that this support was uncertain and began a campaign to bring the monthly to the American Mathematical Society. The topic became a hot potato between the factions of the East and the Midwest. In April, 1915, the Council voted to not 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. H.E. Slaught sent out a letter requiring the return of a post card stating interest in a new association. 450 people responded with interest in attending an organizational meeting. On Dec. 30-31, E. R. Hedrick of the University of Missouri, presided over a meeting of 104 people attending. Organizational matters were settled in three hours, but the name was left for a committee to solicit responses to 18 suggestions. Each of three subcommittees reported back their preference for the Mathematical Association of America. The nominating committee chose E.R. Hedrick as president and E. V. Huntington of Harvard as vice president. They were elected with an Executive Council of 12 members (3 from the East, 3 from the far West, and 6 from the Midwest). Almost immediately, sections formed and requested recognition. 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 more of a club. Its main function was the publication of the Monthly. There was one standing committee, the Committee on Sections. It is still the only committee mandated by our bylaws.The MAA has grown considerably in a little less than one hundred years to a complex organization.
- Over 20,000 members
- 50 person Board of Governors
- Nationally elected President and two Vice Presidents
- Board elected Treasurer and Secretary
- Board elected Associate Secretary, Chair of the Committee on Sections, and members of the Budget and Audit Committees
- 115 Standing Committees and Councils
- 29 Sections
- 12 SIGMAAs
- 1600 Department Liaisons
- 3 peer reviewed journals
- A student magazine and a newsletter
- An online digital library with a three publications and other classroom resources
- Two national meetings each year
- Workshops, minicourses, and shortcourses
- Grant supported projects and programs
- Mathematics competitions for 500,000 middle and high school students each year
- And, a highly regarded book publication program.
The organization is managed by a Headquarters staff of 26 people and a staff in Nebraska of 10 people.
Today, Benjamin Finkel's dream has substantially come true, the American Mathematical Monthly is the most widely read mathematics journal in the world.