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Who Was Miss Mullikin? Life and Family

Who Was Miss Mullikin?

Thomas L. Bartlow and David E. Zitarelli

The following article, which appeared in the American Mathematical Monthly, 116, no. 2 (February 2009): 99-114, is available as a PDF as well.

Table of Contents
3Mathematical Legacy
4Teaching Career
5Life and Family
7Archival Sources


In this section we indicate something of Anna Mullikin's personal life and character. Miss Mullikin was born in Baltimore, MD, on March 7, 1893, the youngest of four children of William Lawrence Mullikin (1846-1915) and Sophia Ridgely Battee Mullikin (1854-1921), who were descended from seventeenth-century Scottish and English immigrants to the Chesapeake Bay area.

She had two sisters, Mary Hester Mullikin (1884-1947) and Caroline (Carrie) Battee Mullikin (1890-1969), and a brother, Richard Nicholas Mullikin (1888-1945). The sisters graduated from Goucher College in 1907 and 1913, respectively, and became mathematics and science teachers in the public schools of Baltimore.

Her brother earned an A.B. and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University and worked as a chemist for the Dupont Corporation. He was the only one of the siblings to marry and have children.

When Mullikin was assigned to Germantown High School in 1923, she became a resident of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. She lived in rented rooms and apartments for many years before purchasing a home in 1944 just a block from the school [A6]. In 1962 she was diagnosed with arteriosclerosis and had to curtail her activities. She lived the remaining thirteen years of her life in nursing homes.

Mullikin had a variety of interests outside mathematics. In college she managed her class basketball team and was on the swimming team and the student governing board. As an adult she enjoyed walking, gardening, and raising dogs. Beyond that we know little about her friendships and activities but there are two stories that seem to reveal something of Anna Mullikin's character.

One concerns volunteer work she did during World War II. The Alumnae Records Collection in the Penn Archives contains only one item for Anna Mullikin, a postcard dated 1943 on which she reported her address, her place of employment, and the cryptic remark that she was doing "work at a control center under civilian defense" [A7].

In May 1941, with war raging in Europe and U.S. involvement anticipated, Philadelphia set up a Council of Defense to establish and coordinate many public programs to support the war effort. A secret program, disclosed only late in 1944 when victory in Europe seemed assured, consisted of six control centers in various locations around the city. Each center was able to call on a technical staff trained for police, fire, and emergency work and each was staffed around the clock by volunteer "telephonists," working in four-hour shifts [A8].

Harry S. McDevitt, Chairman of the Council of Defense, wrote at the end of 1944, "Too much cannot be said of the faithful but never seen volunteers who served in obscurity, mostly in basement Control Centers" [A9]. It seems that Anna Mullikin was one of these faithful but obscure telephonists but we do not know where she did this work or how much time she devoted to it.

The other story is one of philanthropy. Early in 1956 Miss Mullikin transmitted to the senior minister of the First Methodist Church of Germantown funds to establish the Julia Morgan Memorial Fund. Julia Morgan (1891-1948) was already a medical student at Penn when Mullikin arrived in 1918 to study mathematics. They met and became friends shortly thereafter.

At the same time that Mullikin finished her Ph.D., Morgan completed her residency at the University of Pennsylvania hospital. She enrolled with the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church and went to China to serve in Christian hospitals as a physician and professor of medicine [A10]. She returned to the United States in 1942 and became a professor of medicine at Penn until her death in 1948.

Eight years later Mullikin established the Julia Morgan Memorial Fund to support overseas medical missionaries. Shortly before her death she broadened its purposes so that it is now used to support a variety of mission activities of the Church.

Miss Mullikin suffered a cerebral thrombosis in June 1975 and succumbed on August 24 at age 82.

Continue to the next chapter: 6. CONCLUSION.