Mathematics Fifty years ago at Minnesota
A Reminiscence by W. S. Loud
I joined the Department of Mathematics, College of Science, Literature and the Arts in the fall of 1947, when you could get a driver's license without an examination. I soon discovered that there were two departments at the University of Minnesota, which handled mathematics instruction, the other being the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics. The first of these departments was located in Folwell Hall, and the second was in Main Engineering.
I have deliberately ended this exposition at about 1952. Almost all the people named here are no longer living. After that date, the pattern of activity changed greatly with the departments finally being united in 1963.
The principal activity in both departments was undergraduate instruction because of the huge influx of students on the GI Bill following the end of World War II. The instruction was at a generally lower level because most Minnesota high schools did not offer mathematics beyond the second year of algebra (i.e. Higher Algebra). The first year of three quarters had a program of Trigonometry, College Algebra, and Analytic Geometry with calculus being postponed to the second year and carrying upper division credit (3-000 level). The text (in SLA) was Granville, Smith, and Longley. Also Calculus was taught in a three-quarter sequence: Differential Calculus, Integral Calculus, Intermediate Calculus, with the third quarter carrying graduate credit (5-000 level) because many graduate students in nonmathematical fields needed calculus at that level and also needed graduate credit. From my experience at M.I.T., this was a surprising situation, though I later learned that some very eminent mathematicians of my generation actually began their graduate study of mathematics with Intermediate Calculus. Although I did not have firsthand experience with it, I believe that the first two years in the Mathematics and Mechanics Departments followed a similar pattern.
Before I came to Minnesota, the pattern of research in mathematics was quite simple. There was one person whose duty was to be active in research and serve as adviser to most of the doctoral candidates in the department. This person had been Professor Dunham Jackson for many years. Professor Jackson died in 1946, and his functions were assumed by Professor Robert Cameron, who had come to Minnesota from M.I.T. in 1945. Professor Cameron had an active research program and was adviser to a great many doctoral candidates, some of whom later assumed positions of leadership in the Minnesota State Colleges. But there were already the signs of a significantly larger research activity. In the SLA department, there were two men in their thirties, John Olmsted and Gerhard Kalisch, who were active in research and who taught graduate courses. In the Mathematics and Mechanics Department, there was the counterpart of Professor Cameron, Professor Stefan Warschawski, and also Hugh Turrittin and Fulton Koehler. There were older people in the SLA department who had been active at one time, but had turned their attention largely to administration, textbook writing, and teaching. These included Professor Raymond W. Brink who was Chairman of the department, and had been President of the Mathematical Association of America, William L. Hart author of many widely used texts, Gladys Gibbens, and Elizabeth Carlson. Miss Carlson was Dunham Jackson’s first Ph.D student at Minnesota and was a much-respected teacher with awards from the university in recognition of her teaching. However, a great many new Ph.D’s arrived in both departments in the late forties and early fifties. Watson Fulks and James Thompson were students of Professor Warschawski. In SLA were Charles Hatheld, Jacob Bearman, Warren Loud, Bernard Gelbaum, Evar Nering, Monroe Donsker, and Ross Graves, the latter two being students of Professor Cameron. We were all interested to do research. Seminars were set up at the time and ideas were exchanged back and forth.
One thing that I did almost single-handedly was to get the University of Minnesota to participate in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition. Mr. Brink thought that Minnesota students wouldn’t stand much of a chance, but I felt they should widen their scope. There were three students who did very well: Bert Fristedt, Ian Richards, and Tai Tsun Wu. Wu was an electrical engineering student newly from China.
The graduate faculty of mathematics was composed of the active members of both departments. Graduate students took their coursework in both departments. Some committees had representatives from both departments. There had been an effort at one time to unite all mathematics in SLA, but this had failed. I was told that the engineering departments felt that a department in SLA would not be sympathetic to their particular needs.
What must be considered a major event in the mathematics research picture at the University of Minnesota was the arrival of Athelstan Spilhaus as Dean of the Institute of Technology. He was truly a mover and shaker and did much to stimulate scientific research within the Institute of Technology. He separated mathematics and mechanics, and the mathematics department became known as the IT Mathematics Department, with Professor Warschawski as head. He also persuaded the department of Physics and Astronomy to move from SLA to IT (Chemistry was already there.) He brought Paul Rosenbloom and Arthur Milgram into the IT Mathematics Department, and enabled Professor Warschawski to make several very strong appointments over the next few years.
In the period from 1953 to 1960, both departments made significant appointments, which included many of the most productive members of the departments over the years.
There was much contact with the mathematics faculty at the various small colleges about the state. The Minnesota Section of the Mathematical Association of America was active, and there was the opportunity to meet and interact with colleagues from around the state and in North and South Dakota.