Archives - Narrative History

Chapter 1: A Glimpse at the Beginnings of MAA

A Comprehensive account of the events leading up to the founding of MAA was published in 1972 by the Association, The Mathematical Association of America - Its First Fifty Years, by Kenneth O. May of the University of Toronto as editor. (The quotations below are taken from this book.)  For purposes of this report, suffice it to say that professional mathematical societies in this country developed by and large from the New York Mathematical Society which was founded in 1888.  It expanded into a nationwide organization in 1891, and three years later was reorganized as the American Mathematical Society.

At about the same time, Benjamin F. Finkel founded The American Mathematical Monthly. This journal was directed toward the improvement of mathematics teaching.  From its beginnings, the MONTHLY had financial problems and had to seek support and subsidies from many institutions and individuals.  By 1913, an editorial board had been organized consisting of Finkel and representatives of eleven supporting colleges.

In 1914, a communication from Professor H. E. Slaught (a graduate of Colgate University) to the Council of the American Mathematical Society suggested the appointment of a Committee to consider the general relation of the Society to the promotion of teaching especially in the collegiate field.  Such Committee was appointed, and later reported that it had voted three to two that the Society should not take over publication of the MONTHLY, and “it is deemed unwise for the American Mathematical Society to enter into the activities of the special field now covered by the MONTHLY.”  However, the Committee recognized the importance of work in this field, adding that its value suggests that an organization should be formed to deal specifically with this topic. Slaught, then managing editor of the MONTHLY circulated a letter asking support for the establishment of such an association.  As a result, an organizational meeting was called for December of 1915 at Ohio State University, and The Mathematical Association of America came into existence with the MONTHLY as its official journal.

In December of 1915, representatives of Kansas, Missouri and Ohio applied to the newly formed MAA to become Sections, in accordance with the Constitution of MAA.  Thus, “some sections were informally organized and held meetings before formal approval by the Association.”  (In fact, the Kansas Section grew out of  a Kansas Association of Mathematics Teachers, founded in 1905.)

Despite New York’s being one of the original thirteen states of the United States, its mathematicians were somewhat slow in becoming affiliated with The Mathematical Association of America.  (After reviewing the manuscript of the fifty-year history of MAA mentioned above, Dirk Struik is quoted as having written “The whole early MONTHLY and MAA movement seems to have been strongly Midwest.  What was the reason?  Eastern snootiness?  Or just a fresh prairie wind blowing over the grassroots country?”)  In time, however, the “movement” spread throughout the country as various Sections were organized.  The MAA has grown into an international mathematical organization with some 29 Sections.