In Service to Mathematics

Amy Shell-Gellasch

Mina Spiegel Rees (1902–1997) had a profound effect on mathematical research in the mid-twentieth century. Her tenure as the head of the Mathematical Sciences Division of the Office of Naval Research during its inception after World War II significantly influenced mathematical research in the United States. Her leadership in establishing the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York during the 1960s shaped graduate education at those institutions, as well as nationwide.
Publication Date: December 30 2011
ISBN/EAN13: 0983700400 / 9780983700401
Page Count: 138
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 6″ x 9″
Language: English
Color: Black and White
Related Categories: Mathematics / History & Philosophy


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.


Jeremy Gray, Mathematical Reviews MR2883650
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.

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

David Alan Grier, Fellow, IEEE, President Elect, IEEE Computer Society, Center for International Science and Technology Policy says:
``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.''

Dr. Peggy Kidwell, Curator of Mathematics, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History says:
``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.''


Chapter 1Introduction
Chapter 2Mina Rees, 1902–1997
Chapter 3Division Algebras
 A Brief History of Algebras
 Why Study Division Algebras?
 Dickson and Rees
 Dickson 1914
 Dickson 1926
 Dickson 1930
 Rees's Doctoral Dissertation
Chapter 4World War II
 The Applied Mathematics Panel
 Rees's Work on the Applied Mathematics Panel
Chapter 5Post-War: 1946–1953
 The Office of Naval Research
 Early Computers
Chapter 6Rees and Graduate Education: 1953–1972
 Rees's Impact on Graduate Education
Chapter 7Conclusion
Appendix ACourse Work at Columbia University
Appendix BCourse Work at the University of Chicago
Appendix CKing's Medal of Great Britain
Appendix DPresidential Certificate of Merit
Appendix EMAA Award for Distinguished Service
Appendix FResolution of the Council of the AMS
Appendix GNational Academy of Sciences Letter
Appendix HAwards
Appendix IHonorary Degrees
Appendix JService
Appendix KChronology