Olive Clio Hazlett

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27 October 1890
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
8 March 1974
Keene, New Hampshire, USA

Olive Clio Hazlett was an American mathematician who worked in algebra. Between 1914 and 1930 she published fourteen papers that were presented at meetings of the American Mathematical Society. She did outstanding work for the Cryptanalysis Committee during World War II.


Olive Clio Hazlett was the only child of the postal clerk Robert Hazlett (1862-1905) and his wife Olive Leonora Binkley (1866-1954), the daughter of a carriage maker. Robert, who worked for the Railway Mail Service in Cincinnati, married Olive in Washington, Ohio, USA on 15 November 1888. Olive studied at the Laura Memorial Woman's Medical College in Cincinnati and, after being licensed to practice medicine in 1898, she became a doctor at the Reformatory Prison for Women in Sherborn Town, near Boston, in 1899. Her daughter Olive Clio, then eight years old, went with her mother to the Reformatory Prison for Women. On the Census taken on 1 June 1900, Olive Clio Hazlett is living at the Reformatory Prison for Women in Sherborn Town, as a boarder in the house of the watchman George L Works, his wife Eliza A Works and his fourteen year old daughter Emma S Works. A few days later, on 12 June 1900, the Census shows nine year old Olive C Hazlett in Zanesville City, Muskingum County, Ohio living with her paternal grandparents, William R and Rebecca D Hazlett, her parents Robert and Olive Hazlett, and Robert's elder sister Lucy R Hazlett.

Olive Clio attended various schools, for example the Malden High School in Malden, Middlesex, Massachusetts, United States where she studied in session 1904-05. Her father died before the end of the 1905 school session and, in September 1905, Olive and her mother spent a year in Europe, spending time in France and England. They returned sailing from Liverpool to Boston on the Saxonia departing 7 August 1906 and arriving on 16 August 1906. She then attended the Dorchester High School in Boston from 1906 to 1909. In the 1910 census, Olive and her mother were living at 306 Talbot Avenue, Boston.

After graduating from the Dorchester High School, Olive Clio Hazlett entered Radcliffe College in 1909. This College, which existed from the 1870s as somewhere women could obtain informal education by Faculty members from Harvard University, was given the right to award degrees in 1894 after moves to admit women directly to Harvard failed. Hazlett graduated from Radcliffe College in 1912 and then went to the University of Chicago to undertake research in algebra. She writes that there she undertook [6]:-
... graduate training in the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy of the University of Chicago (chiefly under Professors E H Moore and L E Dickson, writing my theses under the latter) ...
She was awarded a graduate scholarship and graduated with a Master's Degree in 1913 having submitted the dissertation Invariants which characterize linear associative algebras of a small number of units. She then studied for her Ph.D., holding a Fellowship of the Boston Branch of the Collegiate Alumnae and was awarded the degree in 1915 for a thesis entitled On the Classification and Invariantive Characterization of Nilpotent Algebras. Following the award of the doctorate Hazlett was awarded an Alice Freeman Palmer memorial scholarship of Wellesley College which enabled her to undertake postdoctoral study at Harvard during 1915-1916 [15]:-
The holder of the Alice Freeman Palmer Fellowship for the year 1915-16 was Miss Olive Clio Hazlett, B.A. Radcliffe College 1912, S.M. University of Chicago 1913, Ph.D. University of Chicago 1915. Miss Hazlett was unable to pursue research work in France and Germany, and spent the year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attending certain Harvard University lectures, but chiefly in research work along the lines of her doctor's thesis, 'Classification and Invariantive Characterization of Nilpotent Algebras'. At the December meeting of the American Mathematical Society, Dr Hazlett presented a paper on this subject and a second one at the September Colloquium of the Society. The fellowship was awarded to Dr Hazlett for a second year, with the expectation that an important advance would be made in the subject where she had already obtained interesting and satisfactory results, but at the same time as the award of the fellowship, an appointment at Bryn Mawr College was offered to Miss Hazlett which she felt constrained to accept.
Her first appointment, therefore, was at Bryn Mawr in 1916 where Charlotte Scott, the first Head of Mathematics, was still in that role. The College was headed by Martha Carey Thomas who by this time had built it into a college with a very high quality of education for women.

After two years at Bryn Mawr, Hazlett was appointed as Assistant Professor at Mount Holyoke. In 1924 Mount Holyoke promoted her to Associate Professor, but Hazlett was dedicated to research in algebra and she was unhappy with the many classes she had to teach leaving her little time for research. She did, nevertheless, have an impressive publication record in her first five years at Mount Holyoke publishing six papers between 1918 and 1922 [4]:-
Hazlett's years at Mount Holyoke were some of her most productive research years and included the start of her long tenure as an associate editor of the 'Transactions' of the American Mathematical Society.
In 1924 she wrote an 8-page review of the two books Algebras and their Arithmetics by Leonard Eugene Dickson and Corpi Numerici e Algèbre by Gaetano Scorza. The review begins:-
On first picking up Professor Dickson's book, the reader's attention is caught by the fact that the author assumes no knowledge beyond the most elementary parts of a first course in the theory of equations. As the reviewer turned from one page to another, there was a certain ease and simplicity in the style which called to mind some of those science primers of the days of our grandfathers. One felt once more the half-forgotten glamor of the rainy day long ago when one discovered several of these "primers", during one's secret investigation of a pompous old book-case on the landing of the stair.
She was also on a committee of the American Association of University Professors consisting of Harold H Bender (Chairman), Anna A Cutler, Olive C Hazlett and Robert K Root which produced the 109-page report The Selection, Retention, and Promotion of Undergraduates (1926).

The facilities at Mount Holyoke, such as the library, were not really what an ambitious researcher required so Hazlett decided to move on. She applied for a post at the University of Illinois and already she had a high research reputation being described by L E Dickson as [13]:-
... one of the two most noted women in America in the field of mathematics.
She was offered a post at the University of Illinois and she knew that there she would have all the facilities she needed to concentrate on her algebra research. She accepted a reduction in rank from associate professor to assistant professor in taking the post at Illinois [4]:-
While at Illinois she served a three-year term on the council of the American Mathematical Society 1926-28, and in 1927 she became the second woman "starred" for mathematics in 'American Men of Science'; the first was Charlotte Scott.
She wrote in [6] that after her doctoral training:-
... it was inevitable that I should continue research in algebra: linear algebras, nilpotent algebras, matrices, quaternions, division algebras; modular invariants and covariants in a Galois Field, GF(pn)GF(p^{n}), of order pnp^{n} - both formal and otherwise; and ideals of a matrix algebra. The resulting papers were published in 'Bulletin' of the American Mathematical Society, Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, Annals of Mathematics, Journal of Mathematics, and Journal de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées as well as in Proceedings of the International Mathematical Congress (Toronto, 1924) and Atti del Congresso Internazionale dei Matematici (Bologna, 1928).
For details of Hazlett's papers, see THIS LINK.

The International Congress of Mathematicians in Bologna which Hazlett mentions at the end of the above quote was one to which she presented the paper Integers as Matrices. She was able to attend the Congress while holding a Guggenheim Fellowship which enabled her not only to visit Italy, but also to visit Göttingen in Germany and Zürich in Switzerland during 1928 and 1929. Back at the University of Illinois in 1930, she was promoted to Associate Professor. However, she found the teaching workload high and she felt that Illinois never quite gave her the research opportunities that she felt she had been promised when she was first appointed. She did not publish any further papers on algebra after 1930 but she was active in other ways, both before and after that time [6]:-
I did refereeing of research papers in above lines of algebra offered for publication to 'Transactions' of the American Mathematical Society, Annals of Mathematics, and (I think) Journal of Mathematics. For some years, I was an Associate Editor of the 'Transactions' of the American Mathematical Society, a research journal. Also, I wrote the article on 'Quaternions' for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th edition). - Around 1930, the International Association of University Women formed a committee to award fellowships and I was made the judge of any mathematical manuscript submitted to it.
In 1934-35 one of the students taking her algebra class was Paul Halmos. He writes [5]:-
Algebra was taught by Olive Hazlett who was, by our lights, a famous and important mathematician: she published papers and she taught advanced courses... Hazlett's course was based mainly on the first volume of van der Waerden, with, of course, some deletions and additions. She enjoyed telling us about one of her papers whose title she gave as "Embedding a ring in a field," and she enjoyed telling us how her colleague Shaw teased her about it - it evoked a picture of nefarious agricultural activities, he said.
The difficulties were about to take their toll, however. Rossiter writes in [13]:-
Isolated and moderately successful but with aspirations of full equality, [she] denied the potential psychological dangers in [her] position.
She wrote to the Chairman of the Mathematics Department in 1935 complaining about the large service courses she was required to teach. By December 1936 she was forced to take sick leave which was supposed to end in August 1937 so that she could take up teaching again for the academic year 1937-38. During 1936-37 she spent several months in Rogers Memorial Sanatorium in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin before spending the remainder of the year in Chicago. However her health was not good enough to allow her to return to work and she was forced to take another year off on sick leave [4]:-
... which Hazlett spent mainly in Colorado, first in Denver and then in Estes Park. Also in 1937 Hazlett described her interests as "rock climbing especially above the timberline and when the technique is pressure climbing; landscape photography, especially working across the light or into the light; Oriental rugs and other."
In September 1938 she returned to work in Illinois. We have a description of Hazlett teaching a second semester course on algebra in 1940-41 by one of the students taking the class who writes that she was [1]:-
... tall, thin, her long grey hair done up in a bun, wisps of hair always hanging down in her face. She seemed so different that we in her class were rather frightened of her.
World War II led to a second phase in Hazlett's research. She describes that as follows [6]:-
... in 1940 came the second World War and I found myself caught up in its tentacles. The American Mathematical Society appointed a Cryptanalysis Committee with (as I recall) five members of whom Professor A A Albert of the University of Chicago was chairman and Commander H T Engstrom the military (and hence the most important) member. Later, they apparently added some members and I was one of them. Accordingly, I had entrusted to me several classified military documents of the U.S. Signal Corps.
Her description of the lengths she had to go to in order to keep her work secret makes interesting reading [6]:-
This meant that I had to exercise great caution as to [the documents] safety. Naturally, as a naive self-protection, I told the head of my department about the work and the documents, showing him the letter from Commander Engstrom. Otherwise, I did not mention documents or work to a soul except to an officer of the U.S.S.C. or to the F.B.I. when need arose. [In a subsequent letter Hazlett corrected this by giving the names of one or two others she had confided in, including E H Moore.] I never had them in my office at the University and I used them only in my apartment which I shared only with a loyal dog. If the door-bell rang when I was working with them, I quickly scuttled them out of sight and reach, replacing them with innocent stuff (research in progress) in algebra that was waiting. At my summer place, I had installed a Diebold Treasure Chest with triple-combination lock and then changed combinations single-handed.

It so happened that one of my ideas was, apparently, the bit that was featured by Commander Enstrom when he gave [the preliminary report of the Cryptanalysis Committee] to the American Mathematical Society at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in the spring 1943 or 1944. - Later, they suggested that I go to D.C. to make certain contacts and I so did on my way back to my job in early fall of 1944. Of all my various reports, I kept a carbon copy, sent original "registered, return receipt requested" and then burned my copy in a galvanised iron pail, pouring ashes down toilet.
A court order committed Hazlett to the Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of Illinois in Chicago in November 1944. She was released but the Champaign County Court committed Hazlett to Kankakee State Hospital in Kankakee, Illinois in March 1945. Up to this time she had been on temporary disability leave but this was made permanent in May 1945. This continued until she retired in 1959 when she was made professor emeritus.

She had been released from the state hospital in 1953, however, when she petitioned for her release and it was granted. She spent the next 20 years in her home, 'Timeless Cabin', in Peterborough, New Hampshire. She was befriended by brothers from the Carmelite community during these years. Hazlett was fascinated by puzzles and the brothers from the Carmelite community, having been given many of her puzzles before her death, donated them to the Smithsonian and they were displayed in 1984. Fascinating pictures and descriptions of these puzzles are given at [11].

Her final few months were spent in a nursing home in Keene, New Hampshire. After dying in the nursing home, she was buried in Saint Peters Cemetery, Peterborough, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire. Her grave is marked by a small irregular stone simply inscribed "OLIVE C HAZLETT 1890-1974."

Let us end with quoting Della Dumbaugh Fenster's overview of Hazlett's contributions, particularly the way she interacted with her advisor Leonard Dickson and the other professors who taught her [2]:-
Olive Hazlett, a 1915 Dickson doctorate, followed her adviser's lead and studied nilpotent algebras, division algebras, and modular invariants before she apparently followed Dickson down the road to the arithmetic of algebras. At the 1924 International Congress of Mathematicians in Toronto, she extended his arithmetic of rational algebras to algebras over an arbitrary field. Hazlett could not claim the exclusive rights for these ideas, however, since Dickson presented the same generalisation at the same meeting. (This, perhaps, represented a bitter sweet moment for Dickson (and Hazlett, for that matter), bitter in that he was not the only one presenting a more general theory but sweet in that he had trained his student well.) Like Dickson, Hazlett certainly placed a high value on research mathematics. She wrote more papers than any other pre-1940 American woman mathematician and, reflective of her adviser's commitment to the broader mathematical community, she served as a cooperating editor of the 'Transactions' of the American Mathematical Society for 12 years, held a two-year term on the American Mathematical Society Council, and she, Charlotte Scott, and Anna Johnson Pell Wheeler composed the entire group of women mathematicians starred in 'American Men of Science' between 1903 and 1943. As for her relationship with Dickson, it can be characterised as one of mutual respect. In particular, although she continued to draw from his work, Hazlett apparently neither tended to consult Dickson directly about her employment dilemmas nor to keep him informed of her research. In short, for Hazlett, Dickson served as a role model rather than a mentor.

Interestingly, Hazlett consulted E H Moore and Herbert Slaught (and not Dickson) about professional decisions. In 1918, Hazlett wrote Moore concerning her dismissal from Bryn Mawr and Slaught regarding her subsequent job offer from Mount Holyoke. She wrote Moore again in 1925 as she considered a position at the University of Illinois (which she ultimately accepted). As an aside, Hazlett's 1925 letter to Moore candidly depicts the dilemmas faced by women attempting to do research mathematics at institutions without adequate libraries or sabbatical opportunities. See Olive Hazlett to E H Moore, January 29, 1918; Olive C Hazlett to Herbert S Slaught, February 25, 1918; and Olive Hazlett to E H Moore, March 11, 1925.

References (show)

  1. An Alumna Remembers, Math Times: University of Illinois Mathematics Department Newsletter (Spring 1995).
  2. D D Fenster, Role Modeling in Mathematics: The Case of Leonard Eugene Dickson (1874-1954), Historia Mathematica 24 (1997), 7-24.
  3. J Green and J LaDuke, Contributors to American Mathematics: An Overview and Selection, in G Gass-Simon and P Farnes (eds.), Women of Science: Righting the Record (Indiana, 1990).
  4. J Green and J LaDuke, Olive Clio Hazlett, Pioneering Women in American Mathematics (American Mathematical Society, Providence, Rhode Island, 2009).
  5. P Halmos, I want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (Heidelberg-Boston, 1985).
  6. O C Hazlett, Two letters to Mr Maynard Brichford University Archivist, University of Illinois Archives (23 February, 1964; 4 March, 1964).
  7. G Kass-Simon and P Farnes, Olive Clio Hazlett, in Women of Science: Righting the Record (Indiana University Press, 1990), 135-138.
  8. B Narins, Olive Clio Hazlett, in Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present 2 (Gale Group, 2001), 982-983.
  9. E H Oakes, Hazlett, Olive Clio, Encyclopedia of World Scientists (Facts on File, 2007), 316-317.
  10. Obituary: Olive Clio Hazlett, The New York Times (12 March 1974).
  11. Olive C Hazlett: Music and Puzzles, Because of Her Story, Smithsonian.
  12. L Riddle, Olive Clio Hazlett, Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College (2016).
  13. M W Rossiter, Women Scientists in America, Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (Baltimore-London, 1982).
  14. T K Wayne, Olive Clio Hazlett, in American Women of Science Since 1900 1 (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 500-501.
  15. Wellesley College Bulletin, Annual Reports. President and Treasurer 1915-16 (Wellesley College, 1917).
  16. Women Mathematicians and NMAH Collections - Olive C Hazlett: Music and Puzzles, National Museum of American History.

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Olive Clio Hazlett:

  1. Olive Clio Hazlett's papers

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