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EPADEL:A Semisesquicentennial History, 1926-2000

Section 2.5 Annual Meeting

The year 1926 was a heady time for mathematicians in the Philadelphia area. First came the organizational meeting at Lehigh to form the Philadelphia Section on November 27. Just one month later the University of Pennsylvania hosted the four-day annual AMS 1  meeting from December 28 right on up to New Year’s Eve on December 31. The AMS 2  meeting was held in conjunction with Section A of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This marked the first time such a meeting was held in the region. But of even more relevance for this account, the meeting marked one of the first times that the AMS 3  met in conjunction with the MAA 4 , as the MAA 5  held its 11 th annual meeting over the last two days of the conference. We discuss this joint meeting briefly because it provides additional evidence of the broad mathematical community that had coalesced in the Philadelphia area by the end of 1926.
The joint meeting was a roaring success. For one thing, a record 264 people attended, of whom 187 belonged to the MAA 6 . (For comparison sake, attendance at the joint meetings held in January 2000 numbered over 4200.) This was in striking contrast to the previous meeting in Kansas City, whose attendance of 122 members had been disappointing. We have examined the attendance roll from the meeting to obtain a profile of some of the most active mathematicians from the EPADEL area.
It is not surprising that the host institution, Penn, would supply the most attendees, 10 in all. From this group, P. A. Caris and H. H. Mitchell are profiled as section officers and E. S. Crawley will be introduced in the next chapter. The others who attended were Virgil William Adkisson, William Leake Ayres, Joel D. Eshleman, Henry Brown Evans, Oliver Edmunds Glenn, Harold Marshall Lufkin, and Frederick Hollister Safford. Four other MAA 7  members from Philadelphia attended the annual meeting: one college teacher (James E. Davis from Drexel, who would become chair of the section in 1942) plus three high- school teachers (J. A. Clarke from West Philadelphia High School for Boys, V. Z. Shippy from Central High School, and W. Sensenig, who was listed only as “High School”).
  • Wayne Sensenig was born in Goodville, PA, in 1879, and received his bachelors degree from Haverford College in 1901. We suspect that his father was David M. Sensenig, who taught at West Chester at the turn of the century. Wayne Sensenig was employed as an engineer until becoming a high school mathematics teacher in Philadelphia in 1912. While teaching by day he attended classes at the University of Pennsylvania by night, resulting in an A. M. degree in just two years. In 1919 he received his Ph.D. under Oliver E. Glenn. His doctoral dissertation, “Concerning the invariant theory of involutions of conics”, was published in the American Journal of Mathematics in 1919. He also published a note on definite integrals in the Monthly the following year. Having no evidence to the contrary, we assume that Sensenig taught in high school the rest of his life. A charter member of the MAA 8  in 1915, he was last listed on the membership roll for the academic year 1933-1934, when he lived in Bala Cynwyd.
Five faculty members from four different colleges in the Philadelphia suburbs also attended the joint AMS 9 -MAA 10  meeting. The most famous was Anna Pell Wheeler of Bryn Mawr College. Others included L. W. Reid and Albert H. Wilson from Haverford College, John W. Clawson from Ursinus College, and John H. Pitman from Swarthmore College. All but Reid will be introduced in due course.
  • Legh Wilber Reid (1867-1961) was born in Alexandria, Virginia. He obtained one bachelors degree from VMI in 1887 and another from Johns Hopkins University two years later. He then worked for the U. S. Bureau of the Census and the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, where his job title was listed as “computer”. Reid was appointed an instructor at Princeton University in 1893 while he began taking graduate courses. He obtained a masters degree from Princeton in 1896, after which he sailed abroad to study in Göttingen, obtaining his doctorate under the renowned David Hilbert in 1899. Reid spent the rest of his career at Haverford College, from his appointment in 1900 to his retirement in 1934. Known affectionately to Haverford students as “\(f\) of \(x\)”, he was one of the founders of the College’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and served as its secretary for 40 years. His book The Theory of Algebraic Numbers was used as a graduate text in American colleges for over 50 years from the time it was published in 1910; David Hilbert wrote a brief introduction. Reid died in 1961 at age 93.
Six MAA 11  members from the Lehigh Valley traveled to Philadelphia for the meeting, including four from Lehigh University: Albert Bennett, Joseph Reynolds, Lloyd Smail, and Frank Weida. The other two were Albert G. Rau of Moravian College and William M. Smith of Lafayette College. All six men played active roles in the Philadelphia Section of the MAA 12  for years to come.
In addition to the two focal points, various other locations within the Philadelphia Section were strongly represented at the joint meeting. Seven faculty members from the Pennsylvania State College [now University] attended, including the married couple Frederick W. and Helen B. Owens. Frederick’s affiliation is listed academically (Pennsylvania State College), whereas Helen’s is listed geographically (State College). Both participated actively in events sponsored by the Philadelphia Section even beyond the formation of a section in western Pennsylvania.
We already mentioned four faculty members from Princeton who attended the meeting. Added to that list is charter member Morris Knebelman, who had just moved across the Delaware River that year from Lehigh.
Four faculty members from Rutgers also attended, including two who were active in the Philadelphia Section: Albert E. Meder and Richard Morris. The latter was especially vigorous in our section; we will meet him again in Chapter 5. Thirty years later Meder was the driving force behind the establishment of the New Jersey Section.
Four other members who lived within the Philadelphia Section’s boundaries are also worthy of mention. W. F. Long of Franklin & Marshall College traveled from Lancaster, H. S. Everett from Penn State, C. J. Rees from the University of Delaware in Newark, and Ruth Thompson from the New Jersey College for Women at Rutgers. Neither Long nor Everett participated in many sectional activities, but Rees was elected chair in 1946 and Thompson organized the section’s annual meeting in 1934. We have been unable to find any biographical information on Ruth Thompson. William F. Long and Carl J. Rees will be introduced later, but for now we supply information on H. S. Everett.
  • Harry Scheidy Everett was born in Scheidys, PA. He taught in high school from the time of his graduation in 1908 until 1915. In the meantime he attended classes at Bucknell, where he obtained three degrees in consecutive years – A.B. 1912, A.M. 1913, Sc.M. 1914. He accepted an instructorship at Bucknell in 1915. H. S. Everett spent the year 1921-1922 on a fellowship at the University of Chicago, resulting in his Ph.D. at the end of the year. His dissertation topic involved homogeneous polynomials expressible in terms of determinants whose elements were such polynomials. Upon returning to Bucknell he was promoted to professor of applied mathematics and astronomy. However, in 1927 he returned to Chicago, where he held several positions over the next 29 years – professor of extension courses, professor of home study, dean, and lecturer in the Adler Planetarium. From 1926 to 1933 he served as an associate editor of the Monthly. Upon retirement in 1956 as Extension Professor Emeritus, Everett accepted a visiting professorship at Penn State. Five years later he returned to academia full time when he accepted a professorship at East Stroudsburg. Everett moved to West Chester in 1973, and he died there four years later at age 86.
Recall that the MAA 13  part of the meeting was held on the final two days of the joint meeting, December 30 and 31. The major part of the scientific program consisted of eight papers presented at two separate sessions. Two of the eight speakers were from the Philadelphia Section. The title of the talk by Lehigh’s F. M. Weida was “On various conceptions of correlation,” and the title of the talk by Swarthmore’s J. H. Pitman was “Modern methods and results of stellar parallax investigations”. Weida is profiled in the next chapter.
  • John Himes Pitman (1890-1952) was born in Conshohocken, PA. He was awarded two degrees from Swarthmore College, an A.B. in 1910 and an M.A. in 1911. He remained at Swarthmore an additional year as a Lippincott Fellow, and then he crossed the country to become a Lick Observatory Fellow in California. In 1913 Pitman rejoined the Swarthmore community as an instructor in the department of mathematics and astronomy, and remained there the rest of his life. A mathematical astronomer who specialized in stellar parallaxes, masses of binary stars, and orbits and asteroids, he was elected president of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society. Active politically, Pitman served as a burgess for the town of Swarthmore from 1933 to 1947 and as chairman of the county Democratic Committee. Poor health forced him to resign his professorial and political positions in 1947.
One notable aspect of Pitman’s talk was his use of an emerging technology to illustrate the lecture. Rather than merely reading his paper, as was customary at the time, he used lanternslides to display photos of stars whose distances he had measured. Other speakers used lanternslides as well. Although there is no indication when speakers began using this new technology at annual meetings, lanternslides eventually gave way to overhead projectors, which are currently giving way to computer-generated presentations. There is no record of the first use of either overhead projectors or computers at the section’s annual meetings.
At the end of the joint meeting an AMS 14 -MAA 15  dinner was held at the Aldine Hotel (since demolished). Following dessert came four talks of a rather light nature, the first three by Herbert Slaught, George D. Birkhoff, and G. D. Olds. According to the official minutes from the meeting the fourth speaker, Anna Pell Wheeler, “spoke appropriately on behalf of the ladies”. No amplification of this quotation was provided. Such a dinner is a regular affair at today’s national MAA 16  meetings. Today some sectional meetings hold dinners, but the Philadelphia Section has held few, mainly because of the one-day duration of its meetings.
At the close of the joint session a resolution was adopted by the combined body of mathematicians to express their “grateful appreciation of the gracious hospitality extended them by the University of Pennsylvania, the American Philosophical Society, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Drexel Institute [now Drexel University], and the Franklin Institute.” The participation of the three non-academic institutions reflects the close relationship that existed in the 1920s between mathematics and the natural sciences.
We end this chapter with three related facts about the Penn meetings. This was not the first annual AMS 17  meeting that the University of Pennsylvania hosted, for the University had played host to the annual summer meeting in 1912, though it was the first “Christmas meeting”. Although only 29 people attended the meeting in 1912, 26 of them delivered papers. Second, Lehigh University hosted the annual AMS 18  meeting held December 26-28, 1929, three years after the historic Penn meeting, but it was not a joint affair with the MAA 19 . Third, there were two hosts for the 1932 meeting, Princeton University and Atlantic City, both of which were part of the Philadelphia Section at the time. By the time an annual meeting was held in Atlantic City again, in 1971, that resort town was part of the New Jersey Section.