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Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight The Walter Feit Papers

Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight The Walter Feit Papers

By Nikki Thomas

Walter Feit

The Archives of American Mathematics at the Center for American History has recently processed the papers of Austrian-born mathematician Walter Feit, a pure mathematician who contributed to algebra, geometry, topology, number theory, and logic and who co-authored one of the most influential papers ever written on finite group theory. Sidnie Feit, Walter?s widow, donated the papers and provided a detailed initial inventory.

Feit was born in Vienna in 1930. At the age of nine, Feit?s parents placed him on the last KinderTransport train allowed to evacuate Jewish children from Austria. The train left just two days before the war broke out in 1939. Feit attended high school in England and became passionate about mathematics. In 1946, he left England for Florida and lived with his aunt and uncle. The fall after his arrival in the United States, Feit entered the University of Chicago, and earned both his Bachelor?s and Master?s degrees in 1951. In 1955, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan under the supervision of Robert Thrall, although Richard Brauer was Feit?s true mentor.

Feit began his career in mathematics in 1953, joining the mathematics faculty at Cornell. There he worked on his 1963 paper with John G. Thompson, ?Solvability of Groups of Odd Order,? which is widely regarded as the most influential paper ever written on finite group theory. In 1964 Feit made the move to Yale where he remained for 40 years until his retirement in 2003. While his most famous result is the proof of the Feit-Thompson theorem, he wrote and published extensively over the years, working in finite group theory and modular character theory. Feit passed away in 2004.

Walter Feit was awarded the Cole Prize by the American Mathematical Society in 1965 for his work with Thompson and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also served as Vice-President of the International Mathematical Union and editor for several journals, including 15 years as managing editor for the Journal of Algebra. His sixtieth and sixty-fifth birthdays were celebrated with conferences in his honor, as was his retirement in 2003.

A digital version of Walter Feit?s Memorial Service, including many photographs and information about his life, can be found online at the URL:

The Walter Feit Papers consist of correspondence and other printed material, including preprints, reprints, and manuscripts. The collection contains a wealth of correspondence between Feit and John G. Thompson, primarily mathematical in nature, but also covering more personal topics. Papers, preprints, and reprints comprise a substantial part of the collection, although most reprints are included in duplicate, when available. Of particular biographical relevance are the materials related to Walter Feit?s memorial service, as they include memoirs of his life in Vienna and England.

The finding aid for the Walter Feit Papers is available online at:

The Archives of American Mathematics is located at the Research and Collections division of the Center for American History on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Persons interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the Archives of American Mathematics should contact Kristy Sorensen, Archivist,, (512) 495-4539. The Archives web page can be found at: