Herbert Ellsworth Slaught, 1919 MAA President
Born: July 21, 1861, Seneca Lake, Watkins, New York
Died: May 21, 1937, Chicago, Illinois
Herbert Ellsworth Slaught was a mathematics professor at the University of Chicago and a longtime editor of the American Mathematical Monthly. Through his extensive efforts to elevate the quality and status of that journal, he became instrumental in founding the MAA.
The third annual meeting of the MAA (excluding the founding meeting in December 1915) was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) at Slaught's home institution, the University of Chicago, on December 27, 1918. Slaught chaired the committee on local arrangements. 86 people attended the meeting.
The September 4-6, 1919, summer meeting of the MAA was held in conjunction with AMS and American Astronomical Society meetings at the University of Michigan. 190 people attended. Slaught acted as toastmaster at a joint dinner for all three societies, with H.L. Rietz making remarks for the MAA. The Monthly reported, "This gathering was pronounced on all sides as one of the most successful occasions of its kind and many wishes were expressed for like opportunities in the future."
Education and Career
Upon completing his undergraduate degree, Slaught became a mathematics instructor at the Peddie Institute, where by 1889 he had been promoted to principal. He left in 1892 to pursue advanced mathematics at the University of Chicago. He taught there while working toward his Ph.D. and remained at Chicago as a professor. He retired in 1931.
As an editor of the Monthly from 1907 to 1917, Slaught orchestrated significant changes in the Monthly. By 1912, he had expanded its readership, upgraded it to a professional printing service, solicited editorial support from colleagues and financial support from their educational institutions, and transferred editorial control to a board of editors.
Slaught knew that the Monthly would need more stable financial support. In April 1914, he presented a proposal to the Chicago Section of the AMS, suggesting that the AMS take over the publication. As secretary of the Chicago Section of the AMS and as editor of the Monthly, Slaught formally submitted a proposal to the AMS on December 28, 1914.
After contentious debate, the AMS rejected the proposal in April 1915; its mission was to promote advanced mathematics research, and the Monthly focused on college-level mathematics and its teaching. Slaught then solicited feedback on the possibility of forming a new association for teachers of college mathematics.
In June, he sent out a letter requiring the return of a postcard stating interest in a new association. 450 people responded with 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 30-31, 1915, organizational meeting. The MAA was founded at that meeting.