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EPADEL:A Semisesquicentennial History, 1926-2000

Section 2.1 Atlantic Apathy

Altogether the MAA 1  approved \(16\) sections from the time of its founding in 1915 through the formation of the Southern California Section in \(1925\text{.}\) All but one of these sections was located in the South, Midwest, or West. Why did Eastern states feel such little need for separate sections? Had not the AMS 2  originated New York? Did the AMS 3 , whose primary concern was research, sufficiently address the needs of college teachers?
Leaders at MAA 4  headquarters answered the last question with a resounding “No.” Yet they expressed apprehension about the lack of interest of their eastern colleagues. Albert A. Bennett later recalled that Herbert Slaught and longtime MAA 5  secretary W. D. Cairns expressed concern about the “seeming apathy or lethargy” of mathematicians in the Atlantic States. After all, the easternmost section at that time was the Maryland-Virginia-District of Columbia Section, which had been formed in \(1916\text{.}\) Actually, Bennett’s Lehigh colleague, Joseph B. Reynolds, had suggested the idea of forming a Lehigh Valley Section as early as 1925, but apparently there was insufficient support in that small area. Just as a critical mass of individuals and institutions was necessary to form the American community of mathematicians, so the formation of an MAA 6  section in eastern Pennsylvania and surrounding areas would require a sufficient number of interested – and qualified – individuals and supportive institutions.
Cairns, Slaught, and Bennett all took part in founding the MAA 7  in \(1915\text{.}\) Cairns acted as the temporary secretary of the organization until it took root, and then held the permanent position until his death in \(1943\text{.}\) Slaught represented the Board of Editors of the Monthly. Many years \(later\text{,}\) Bennett described conditions that existed at the time of the founding:
Our Association was founded under especially auspicious circumstances. The many favorable factors were not accidents, nor miracles, nor achieved through serendipity. Some were the end results of a chain of events, not always desired, not always with the eventual outcome in view. But in large part they were secured through wise planning, tactful compromise, cajoling of the apathetic, courageous facing of pessimists in high places, and unremitting work.
We will see that this quotation could apply equally to the Philadelphia Section if the word “Association” is replaced by “Section”.
The present EPADEL Section of the MAA 8  was initially called the Philadelphia Section. This name might suggest a circle as a model, with the city being the center of primary activity and radial activity emanating from it. However, a more appropriate model is an ellipse because there were two focal points at the time of the section’s birth. One focus lay at Lehigh University, where the first idea and initial impetus originated with Joseph Reynolds and Albert Bennett. But it was soon realized that the Lehigh Valley alone did not provide sufficient support for an entire MAA 9  section. A greater population of college mathematics teachers was needed; a critical mass was necessary. It was Philadelphia, the second focus located some \(40\) miles south of Lehigh, that supplied the bulk of scholars interested primarily in mathematics at the college level.