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Archives Spotlight: Addition to the Mathematical Association of America Records

Addition to the Mathematical Association of America Records

By Kristy Sorensen

The following article, featured as part of the Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight, was published in the January 2005 issue of MAA FOCUS. The full issue is available here (pdf).

Almost two linear feet of historical materials from the Mathematical Association of America Headquarters have recently been donated to the Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) as part of the Mathematical Association of America Records. The materials range in date from the late 1890s to the 1960s, and primarily consist of files from H.E. Slaught, H.M. Gehman, Walter B. Carver, and W.D. Cairns.

These papers were found almost a year ago by Executive Director Tina Straley in the basement of the MAA Headquarters building as it was being cleaned out for some planned renovation work. Dr. Straley immediately recognized the importance of the records and arranged with Don Albers to have them sent to the Archives of American Mathematics.

Highlights of the records include

  • Original charter of incorporation, state of Illinois (1920)
  • Pre-MAA correspondence relating to the American Mathematical Monthly, including correspondence between founder B.F. Finkel and managing editor H.E. Slaught
  • Correspondence debating and establishing the Mathematical Association of America as a distinct organization from the American Mathematical Society (AMS)
  • Early meeting minutes from the board of governors (1920-1928)
  • Membership lists and lists of officers

A brief history lesson may help put this addition in context. The American Mathematical Monthly was established in 1894 by Benjamin F. Finkel as a journal for teachers of mathematics, primarily at the high school level. By 1913, he had teamed up with H.E. Slaught of Chicago and gained the financial support of a consortium of fourteen Midwestern universities.

American Mathematical Monthly receipt

Receipt for a subscription to the American Mathematical Monthly, dated February 10, 1897, made out to Lewis Newkirk, and signed by the journal's founder Benjamin Finkel. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The MAA Records at the Archives of American Mathematics.

Because this financial support was not permanent, in 1915 Slaught raised the possibility of the Monthly becoming an official journal of the American Mathematical Society. This was a hotly contested issue at the time, as many did not want to expand the mission of the AMS. The AMS eventually declined to sponsor the Monthly, but gave its support to the creation of a professional organization that would focus on broader mathematical issues. The Mathematical Association of America was established at a December 1915 meeting of 104 interested people in Columbus, Ohio, presided over by E.R. Hedrick.

In 1920, the MAA was incorporated under the laws of the state of Illinois.

MAA charter of incorporation

Charter of incorporation for the Mathematical Association of America signed by the secretary of state of Illinois, September 8, 1920. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The MAA Records at the Archives of American Mathematics.

The MAA has certainly expanded and evolved over the years, but the Monthly is still an integral part of the organization. These records help to document the early history of the Mathematical Association of America, and will be critical in our understanding of the organization's history.

Ribbons from the 1950 International Congress of Mathematicians

Ribbons from the 1950 International Congress of Mathematicians, held at Harvard. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The MAA Records at the Archives of American Mathematics.

The initials HMG and MBG at the tops of the ribbons suggest that they belonged to Harry M. Gehman and his wife, Marion B. Gehman.

Harry Gehman was elected secretary-treasurer of the MAA in 1948 and served in that capacity until 1960, when he was appointed the MAA's first executive director. At that time, the MAA office was located in Gehman's office on the campus of SUNY Buffalo.

Marion Gehman also worked for the MAA in that early period, processing membership forms by hand.

Given Gehman's leadership position within the MAA in 1950, it seems likely that the ribbons belonged to him and his wife, who were in constant attendance at mathematics meetings.

Sources: The Mathematical Association of America: Its First Fifty Years, by Kenneth O. May; Conversation with Raoul Hailpern on December 2, 2004â??Don Albers.

These papers will be inventoried and incorporated into the general finding aid for the Mathematical Association of America Records.

Kristy Sorensen served as the archivist at the Archives of American Mathematics until November 2006.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) is a unit of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Individuals interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the AAM should contact Carol Mead, Archivist: carolmead@austin.utexas.edu, (512) 495-4539.

Revised on July 12, 2010.

 

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