In Service to Mathematics

Amy Shell-Gellasch

About the Author

Amy Shell-Gellasch received her Doctor of Arts degree in mathematics from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2000. Her area of research is the history of mathematics and its uses in teaching. She co-founded the History of Mathematics Special Interest Group of the Mathematical Association of America (HOM SIGMAA) in 2001. In 2003, she founded the HOM SIGMAA Student Paper Contest in the History of Mathematics. She has edited several resource books for educators in the history of mathematics. Dr. Shell-Gellasch will join the Hood College Mathematics Department in the fall of 2012.


This short but informative book illuminates the life and work of Mina Rees (1902-1997). As a mathematician she wrote a PhD. thesis under Dickson at Chicago in 1931, which is described herein a chapter that tends to confirm the high opinion that her contemporary Saunders Mac Lane had of her. After her Ph.D. she returned to Hunter College, where she had been a student, and taught there for several years. When the Second World War broke out she was brought in to the Applied Mathematics Panel of the Office of Science Research and Development because of her wellrecognised personal and administrative skills. She worked under Warren Weaver, and managed successfully to find a prominent place for mathematics in the war effort, for which the AMS was publicly grateful. After the war she transferred to the Office of Naval Research in Washington, where she became Deputy Science Director in 1952. Then she returned to Hunter College, becoming a professor and Dean of Graduate Studies at CUNY when it was created in 1961, and President of the Graduate School and University Center there in 1969.

The book paints an attractive picture of a vibrant and successful woman who made lasting contributions to the place of mathematics in American life. It makes it clear how much she accomplished, what prejudices against women she encountered, and what support she had from people like Weaver and Richard Courant. It is no criticism of a short book to say that it would be interesting to learn more about Rees’s impact on individual women and people from minority groups whose opportunities in life she worked to enhance, and more about the private person, than we do.


Jeremy Gray
Mathematical Reviews MR2883650

A welcome short biography, with the mathematics clearly explained, of a distinguished applied mathematician, this book places Mina Rees’s work in the contexts of academic mathematics, public support for mathematical work from sources as different as the Office of Naval Research and the City University of New York, and the increasing prominence of women in 20th-century American science.

Judith V. Grabiner
Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor of Mathematics, Pitzer College

A full portrait of a mathematician who played a key role during the second world war and who was one of the first women scientists to establish herself in a public role in the United States.

David Alan Grier
Fellow, IEEE, President Elect, IEEE Computer Society, Center for International Science and Technology Policy

From the mid-twentieth century, the United States federal government has been a major sponsor of academic research. Scholar-administrators such as mathematician Mina Rees did much to establish this new system of patronage. Amy Shell-Gellasch’s account of Rees’s life and work at the University of Chicago, Hunter College, the Applied Mathematics Panel, the Office of Naval Research and the City University of New York offers an unusual glimpse of the making of modern academe.

Dr. Peggy Kidwell
Curator of Mathematics, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

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Publication Date: Dec 30, 2011

ISBN/EAN13: 0983700400 / 9780983700401

Page Count: 138

Binding Type: US Trade Paper

Trim Size: 6" x 9"

Language: English

Color: Black & White

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Mina Rees, 1902–1997
Chapter 3 Division Algebras
A Brief History of Algebras
Why Study Division Algebras?
Dickson and Rees
Dickson 1914
Dickson 1926
Dickson 1930
Rees’s Doctoral Dissertation
Chapter 4 World War II
The Applied Mathematics Panel
Rees’s Work on the Applied Mathematics Panel
Chapter 5 Post-War: 1946–1953
The Office of Naval Research
Early Computers
Chapter 6 Rees and Graduate Education: 1953–1972
Rees’s Impact on Graduate Education
Chapter 7 Conclusion
Appendix A Course Work at Columbia University
Appendix B Course Work at the University of Chicago
Appendix C King’s Medal of Great Britain
Appendix D Presidential Certificate of Merit
Appendix E MAA Award for Distinguished Service
Appendix F Resolution of the Council of the AMS
Appendix G National Academy of Sciences Letter
Appendix H Awards
Appendix I Honorary Degrees
Appendix J Service
Appendix K Chronology