Carolyn Eisele

Quick Info

13 June 1902
The Bronx, New York City, USA
15 January 2000
Manhattan, New York City, USA

Carolyn Eisele was a mathematician who spent her whole career teaching at Hunter College. She is famed for her work on Charles Sanders Peirce, particularly in seeing the importance of mathematics in his work on philosophy and logic.


Carolyn Eisele was the daughter of Rudolph Eisele (1879-1936) and Caroline Wüst (1880-1942). Rudolph Eisele, born in New York on 1 November 1879 to a German father and an American mother, was a fireman working for the New York City Fire Department. He married Caroline Wüst on 1 September 1901 in Saints Peter and Paul's Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx, New York. Caroline had been born in New York on 15 July 1880 to a German father from Wurtemburg, who was a blacksmith, and an American mother. Rudolph and Caroline Eisele only had one child, Carolyn Eisele, the subject of this biography.

Carolyn Eisele entered Hunter College High School which had been founded in 1869 as the "The Female Normal and High School" but had changed its name in 1914, while Eisele was a pupil there, to "Hunter College High School for Intellectually Gifted Young Ladies". She graduated in 1919 and wished to continue her studies to degree level at Hunter College. Her parents, however, did not consider this was the right thing for a girl, and wanted her look after them until she married and had a husband and children to look after. Eisele was not easily diverted from her chosen course, however, and she entered Hunter College in 1919 [16]:-
Hunter College ... served women in the New York City area, was tuition-free, and by 1916 was the largest women's college in the country. Hunter's mathematics department was large, with seven regular faculty members in 1916; all were women and none had a doctorate.
Eisele's preference would have been to major in physics but at this time Hunter College did not offer this option. Instead she decided to major in mathematics, also taking physics and chemistry courses. Her broad scientific education would stand her in good stead in her later research career. She graduated with honours in 1923 and was offered a position teaching mathematics at Hunter College. In addition, she continued her studies taking graduate courses at Columbia University.

At Columbia University, Eisele took mathematics courses leading to the award of an M.A. in 1925. Her particular interest was the history of mathematics and she took the famous course that David Eugene Smith was offering at this time. She also took courses from Cassius Jackson Keyser (1862-1947) who proved an important influence since he was interested in the foundations of mathematics and philosophy. This time at Columbia University was important for Eisele's subsequent research interests for she became fascinated with the history though D E Smith, and Keyser introduced her to the ideas of Charles Sanders Peirce. It was not possible for her to continue studying for a Ph.D. at Columbia University for at that time women were not admitted to their Ph.D. course. She was teaching at Hunter College during term times but it was possible for her to enrol at the University of Chicago and undertake research there during the summer vacations. At Chicago she studied differential geometry but a family tragedy forced her to give up working on her Ph.D.

The family tragedy concerned her father Rudolph Eisele who was by this time a Captain in the New York Fire Service. The New York Times of 21 July 1929 reported the incident [11]:-

Captain Rudolph Eisele, 50 years old, of Engine Company 41, a veteran of twenty-four years' service in the Fire Department, was shot and probably mortally wounded last night as he stood in the door of his firehouse at 330 East 150th Street, the Bronx, by Fireman William Devin, a member of his company. ... Fireman Devin, seized by comrades, says he could not control an insane impulse to kill ...
Two days later, The New York Times reported [12]:-
Fire Captain's Condition Grave.

Captain Rudolph Eisele of Engine Company 41, who was shot in the head Saturday night by one of his firemen, was reported in a critical condition late last night in Lincoln Hospital. William Devin, the fireman who shot his superior when "something snapped in his brain," is being held without bail for hearing today in Morrisania Court on a charge of felonious assault.
Rudolph Eisele survived the shooting but committed suicide seven years later [25]:-
EX-FIRE CAPTAIN HERE ENDS LIFE UP-STATE; Rudolph Eisele Found Hanged in Poughkeepsie - Was Shot by Fireman in 1929.

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y., November 27. - Rudolph Eisele, formerly a captain in the New York City Fire Department, was found hanging from a beam in the garage of his home at 34 South Randolph Avenue this morning by his wife, Mrs Caroline Eisele. Dr Howard P Carpenter, medical examiner, pronounced him dead and gave a preliminary verdict of suicide.
These tragic family events were the main cause for Carolyn Eisele giving up her Ph.D. In fact she turned more towards another of her passions, namely music [14]:-
Music was also a major part of her life, and at one point she seriously considered a career in opera. She spent the summer of 1931 studying voice with Madame Jeanne Fourestier in Paris. A few years later, in New York, the Polish- American Wagnerian soprano Elsa Alsen recommended her own voice coach in Los Angeles, Morris Halpern, with whom Eisele studied (as did Kitty Carlisle Hart). Eisele spent 1934 in Los Angeles, where she continued her studies with Halpern while taking courses in mathematics at the University of Southern California.
Halpern and Eisele became friends [22]:-
Morris Halpern (1878-1963) emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1891 at the age of 13. He supported himself through a variety of odd jobs including selling newspapers, polishing guitars and working in factories where he later became a labour organiser and social worker. Despite a lack of formal education Halpern's intellectual ability gained him admittance into Columbia University in 1906. He was awarded a MA in 1909 and a Ph.D. in 1911. In the 1920s Morris and Vera Halpern [Vera Gladstone, née Rocklin, (1868-1948), his common law wife] left New York and moved to Los Angeles where they opened a millinery shop named Madame Vera. Financial difficulties and Vera's sojourn in a sanatorium in 1927 forced the closure of the shop in 1928/29. Halpern then served as music director for KHJ, a Los Angeles radio station, where he selected the music and wrote the scripts for the weekly "To the Ladies" classical music program hosted by Globe Mills. After the loss of this position Halpern began teaching voice. Among his students were Elsa Alsen, Kitty Carlisle and Carolyn Eisele.
Alsen introduced Eisele to Halpern in June 1934 and he became her voice teacher. After she left Los Angeles in 1935 they exchanged love letters, then Halpern moved to New York to be with Eisele in August 1936. In 1942 Eisele sent Halpern letters telling him about her mother's illness and subsequent committal to a sanatorium. Caroline Eisele died in Manhattan State Hospital on 9 December 1942. Morris Halpern and Carolyn Eisele were married on 24 June 1943.

The reader who is aware of the fact that at this time many women were forced to leave their employment when they married may wonder how Eisele could marry and continued working at Hunter College [16]:-
One reason this situation was possible was the inauguration in 1929 of an enlightened president. At that time few of the women on the Hunter faculty were married and ... it was not unusual to insist on the resignation of a woman upon marriage. The new president, James M Kieran, replied to the question "Should a woman member of the staff resign when she got married?" by saying that "the only thing such a person had to do was to file her married name for payroll purposes."
It is not clear if Eisele did file her married name - certainly she published papers under the name Carolyn Eisele but on some travel documents her name appears as Carolyn Eisele-Halpern or Carolyn E Halpern.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Eisele was asked to teach a history of mathematics course at Hunter College. She had a good background in the subject having attended David Eugene Smith course at Columbia University and having been taught there by Cassius Jackson Keyser. Keyser, who had known Charles Sanders Peirce, had written papers A glance at some of the ideas of Charles Sanders Peirce (1935) and Charles Sanders Peirce as a pioneer (1941). He had also written about C S Peirce in Portraits of famous philosophers who were also mathematicians (1939). Eisele had known Keyser well (he died on 8 May 1947)) and, obtaining a semester's sabbatical in 1947 to prepare for her history of mathematics course, she began undertaking research in Columbia University's archives. In the library she found a letter from C S Peirce to the publisher George Plimpton [20]:-
She was inspecting the Plimpton Collection at Columbia University and came across what was then a surprising letter from Peirce to Plimpton, the latter having hired the former as a consultant to his project of acquiring a magnificent collection of early mathematical publications. This letter, and others, clearly showed that Peirce was a master of the history of science as well as the history of mathematics. While she had known about Peirce, she had not realised the extent and depth of his activities as a mathematician or scientist. She showed copies of her discoveries to a close friend who remarked, "I think you have discovered gold."
Eisele published the paper The Liber Abaci Through the Eyes of Charles S Peirce (1951). It begins:-
The legal codes are crowded with definitions of many forms of crime, but one of the most deplorable crimes - the waste of human genius by social conventions - is never even mentioned. I am led to this reflection by an accidental discovery of two manuscript letters written by C S Peirce.

Although appreciation of the work of Charles S Peirce has been growing rapidly in the academic world during the last twenty-five years, some of the younger readers who are not working directly in the field of philosophy or logic may wonder who he was and why his name should be associated with genius. A short sketch of his attainments may assist them in the evaluation of the discovered manuscripts.
Although this publication began a remarkable collection of papers by Eisele about Charles S Peirce, it was not her first publication. This was Lao Genevra Simons (1950), an obituary of Simons who was chair of the Hunter College Mathematics Department from 1927 until she retired in 1940. Simons had been awarded degrees from Columbia University; a Bachelor of Science degree in 1908, a Master's degree in 1912 and a Ph.D. in 1924. The reader might wonder how Simons could obtain a Ph.D. from Columbia when Eisele could not. The reason is that Simons was awarded a degree in mathematical education, not in mathematics, for her thesis Introduction of algebra into American schools in the eighteenth century.

Other trips to libraries led Eisele to make further interesting discoveries. For example in 1957 she published The Charles S Peirce-Simon Newcomb Correspondence. She explains in the introduction to the paper how she came across the material:-
Carefully tucked away in the files of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress and in the archives of Widener Library and Houghton Library at Harvard University are the two ends of a correspondence that stirs the imagination and quickens the pulse of the scientist or historian interested in scientific Americana of the late nineteenth century. The correspondents are two of the greatest intellects ever produced in America and their exchange of opinion regarding matters scientific and personal serves as an interesting personalised documentation of the scientific thought of their period. The renowned astronomer, Simon Newcomb, considered the sheaf of letters from Charles S Peirce important enough to file away with those of other important men in science whom he knew. Peirce, America's belatedly recognised giant in logic and philosophy, preserved a number of Newcomb's letters as well as the drafts of some of his letters to Newcomb of which we have no other record. The correspondence is being published herein for the first time. The correspondence was discovered by the writer while doing research for a book on the activities of Charles S Peirce as a historian of science under a grant from the American Philosophical Society.
We list eleven of Carolyn Eisele's papers, including this last mentioned one, and give extracts from them at THIS LINK.

In addition to writing papers, Eisele edited and published editions of Charles S Peirce's writings, for example The New Elements of Mathematics (4 volumes) (1976). A collection of thirty essays and papers by Carolyn Eisele was published as the book Studies in the Scientific and Mathematical Philosophy of Charles S Peirce: Essays by Carolyn Eisele (1979), edited by Richard M Martin. For extracts from reviews of these and two other books involving Eisele which we chose to highlight the reviewers' comments about Eisele herself, see THIS LINK.

In 1953 Eisele was one of the founders of the Metropolitan New York Section of the History of Science Society [14]:-
Within a year of its founding, the group had become what she fondly described as "a Pythagorean Brotherhood." Acknowledging the roster of eminent speakers at the meetings, she reminisced that "the big guns were coming to us to deliver lectures just as readily as going to the national meeting."
She served as Treasurer of the Metropolitan New York Section of the History of Science Society after its founding and then as president of the Section from 1959 to 1963. It was not only with the Section that Eisele contributed much to the Society, for she also served on the Council of the main History of Science Society and on its Nominating Committee from 1959 to 1962.

Morris Halpern, Eisele's husband, died of a stroke in March 1963. Eisele continued to teach at Hunter College where she was made a full professor in 1965. Having reached the age of 70, she retired from Hunter College in 1972 and she was honoured by the College with election to their Hunter Hall of Fame. Remarkably, however, the majority of Eisele's research contributions came after her retirement. For example after her retirement she published eight of the twelve papers that we give information about at THIS LINK.

Also after her retirement she published all of the four books that we give information about at THIS LINK.

She had joined the Charles S Peirce Society in 1952. This Society had been founded in February 1946 at an AGM of the American Philosophical Association in Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York. She was elected Vice-President of the Society in 1972, then as President from 1973 to 1975. In 1972 she became a consulting member of the Centro Superiore di Logica e Scienze Comparate at the University of Bologna.

Eisele received many honours [2]:-
In 1980, she was awarded a Doctor of Humanities degree by Texas Tech University and two years later received an honorary Doctorate of Science from Lehigh University. In 1985, the New York Academy of Sciences recognised Eisele for her seminal contributions to the history and philosophy of science through her publication of Peirce's mathematical and philosophical works.
The Hunter Colloquium on Charles S Peirce was held in honour of Carolyn Eisele at Hunter College in May 1981. The papers, including one from Eisele herself, were published by Historia Mathematica in 1982 and also marked a celebration of Eisele's 80th birthday. You can read an extract from Joseph Dauben's review at THIS LINK.

In 1982, she became a member of the Board of Advisors for the Peirce Edition Project at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. Established in 1975, the Peirce Edition Project had the long-term aim of producing a 30-volume print edition of C S Peirce's writings as well as an electronic edition. Ten years after she joined the Peirce Edition Project, in 1992, Eisele suffered a severe stroke which left her almost totally incapacitated. Cornelis de Waal writes about her final years and the donation of her papers, books and miscellaneous writings to the Peirce Edition Project [5]:-
She spent the last eight years of her life in bed in her small apartment surrounded by her books and papers, almost entirely unable to communicate, and under the constant care of a professional nurse.

The stiff Manhattan rents forced a quick evacuation of the apartment. So, at the request of the executor of her estate, Arthur Kaufman, Nathan Houser and I left for New York City to collect her library and papers, which had been given to the Peirce Edition Project.

Carolyn Eisele lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the 27th floor of an apartment building in midtown Manhattan. What the apartment lacked in size was amply compensated for by its location and its most magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline, especially at night. The apartment was literally filled with books and papers. She must never have thrown anything away. Books and journals were found everywhere, as were the remnants of her extensive travels, and the hall closets were filled more than knee-high with shopping bags stuffed with correspondence. Her complete financial records, including all check stubs, tax returns, phone bills, etc. had also been preserved. Even the kitchen did not escape, as there was an old shopping cart filled with mathematics books blocking one of its two entryways. With the help of Ralph Müller from Fordham University and five of his students, we carried away well over a hundred boxes, quite a few of which had already been packed eight years earlier to make room for a hospital bed.

References (show)

  1. Carolyn Eisele Collection, Institute for American Thought, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
  2. Carolyn Eisele In Memoriam, Peirce Project Newsletter 3 (2) (2000), 1.
  3. J W Dauben, Review: Studies in the Scientific and Mathematical Philosophy of Charles S Peirce: Essays by Carolyn Eisele, Isis 73 (1) (182), 143-144.
  4. J W Dauben, Eisele, Carolyn (1902-2000), in John R Shook (ed.), The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers in America: From 1600 to the Present (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016), 288-289.
  5. C de Waal, The Carolyn Eisele Collection, Peirce Project Newsletter 3 (2) (2000), 2-3.
  6. EISELE, CAROLYN, The New York Times (16 January 2000).
  7. Eisele, Carolyn (1902-2000), in John R Shook and Richard T Hull (eds.), Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers (Thoemmes, Bristol, 2005), 715.
  8. C Eisele, The Charles S Peirce-Simon Newcomb Correspondence, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 101 (5) (1957), 409-433.
  9. C Eisele, Salomon Bochner on Charles S Peirce, The American Mathematical Monthly 82 (5) (1975), 477-478.
  10. C Eisele, Mathematical methodology in the thought of Charles S Peirce, Historia Mathematica 9 (1982), 333-341.
  11. Fire Captain shot by one of his men, The New York Times (21 July 1929).
  12. Fire Captain's condition grave, The New York Times (23 July 1929).
  13. M H Fisch, Review: The New Elements of Mathematics by Charles S Peirce and Carolyn Eisele, Transactions of the Charles S Peirce Society 14 (3) (1978), 200-211.
  14. M L Gleason and J W Dauben, Carolyn Eisele, 1902-2000, Isis 95 (4) (2004), 649-652.
  15. I Grattan-Guinness, Review: Studies in the Scientific and Mathematical Philosophy of Charles S Peirce: Essays by Carolyn Eisele, American Scientist 69 (2) (1981), 240-241.
  16. J Green and J LaDuke, Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhDs (American Mathematical Society-London Mathematical Society, Providence, Rhode Island-London, England, 2009).
  17. C V Jones, Review: The New Elements of Mathematics by Charles S Peirce and Carolyn Eisele, Isis 70 (4) (1979), 629-631.
  18. A Kaufman, J Dauben and M L Gleason, Carolyn Eisele, 1902-2000, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 74 (5) (2001), 228-229.
  19. K L Ketner, Carolyn Eisele's place in Peirce studies, Historia Mathematica 9 (3) (1982), 326-332.
  20. K L Ketner, Carolyn Eisele (1902-2000), Transactions of the Charles S Peirce Society 37 (4) (2001), 475-489.
  21. S H Levy, Review: Proceedings of the Hunter Colloquium on Charles S Peirce in Honor of Carolyn Eisele, May, 1981, by Joseph W Dauben, Transactions of the Charles S Peirce Society 19 (3) (1983), 311-323.
  22. Morris Halpern Papers, 1893-1963, Peirce Edition Project.
  23. R S Robin, Review: Studies in the Scientific and Mathematical Philosophy of Charles S Peirce: Essays by Carolyn Eisele, Transactions of the Charles S Peirce Society 18 (4) (1982), 367-370.
  24. R S Robin, Review: Historical Perspectives on Peirce's Logic of Science: A History of Science Parts I and II, by Carolyn Eisele, Transactions of the Charles S Peirce Society 23 (2) (1987), 318-321.
  25. Rudolph Eisele Found Hanged in Poughkeepsie, The New York Times (28 November 1936).

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Carolyn Eisele:

  1. Some of Carolyn Eisele's Papers
  2. Carolyn Eisele's books

Other websites about Carolyn Eisele:

  1. MathSciNet Author profile
  2. zbMATH entry

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update December 2021