Cypra Cecilia Krieger Dunaj

Quick Info

9 April 1894
Jasło, Galicia, Austrian Empire (now Poland)
17 August 1974
Ontario, Canada

Cypra Cecilia Krieger Dunaj was the first woman to earn a PhD in mathematics from a Canadian university and only the third person to be awarded a mathematics doctorate in Canada. She is best known for her English translation of Sierpinski's Introduction to General Topology (1934) and General Topology (1952)


Cecilia Krieger's parents were Moses Krieger (1860-1929) and Sarah James (1863-1936) who were merchants in the grocery trade. Let us say a little about names before we continue. The family were Jewish and sometimes used both the Hebrew versions of their names. For example the Jewish Burial Register gives "Name: Cecilia Krieger Dunaj. Hebrew Name: Cipora" while her father Moses sometimes used the Hebrew form "Moshe". Within the family, Cecilia was often known as "Cesia" and Sarah as "Sercha Bela". Moses and Sarah were both born in Radomyol, Galicia, Austrian Empire and were married in 1886.

Cecilia was born into a large family with her parents Moses and Sarah having three daughters and three sons. Cecilia was the oldest of the three girls, the younger two being Regina Krieger (1896-1958) and Rachel Krieger (1901-1978), known as "Rae". Her brothers, all older than her, were Samuel Krieger (1887-1959), Charles Krieger (1889-1929) and Nathan Krieger (1891-1961). Cecilia attended school in Poland but then went to Vienna in 1919 where she entered the University of Vienna to study mathematical physics.

The persecution of Jews made life extremely difficult for the Krieger family. Cecilia's brother Samuel had emigrated to Canada in 1906 and her brothers Charles and Nathan joined him in Canada in the following year. The 1911 census records Samuel and Charles living together in Wellington North, Ontario; both are merchants. Samuel married Toronto born Annie Samuels on 29 December 1912, Charles married Austrian born Mary on 18 September 1915 and Nathan married Sadie on 22 December 1916.

It was Cecilia's brother Samuel who sponsored his father, mother and sisters to escape to Canada. This they did in 1920 and arrived in Toronto where Cecilia entered the University of Toronto. The Canadian Census on 1 June 1921 records Cecilia living with her parents and her two sisters at 53 Leonard Avenue, Toronto. Her occupation is recorded as university student. Beginning university studies in Toronto was certainly no easy task for Cecilia since at the time that she arrived she knew hardly a single word of English. An added complication was the fact that she had to support herself financially and this she did by working in the Muskoka Inn while she studied at University. Despite all these difficulties she was awarded her BA degree in 1924 and her MA degree in 1925. To qualify for the Master's Degree she took graduate level courses on: Modular Elliptic Functions given by Jacques Chapelon; Minimum Principles of Mechanics given by John Lighton Synge; The Theory of Sets given by Samuel Beatty; The Theory of Numbers given by John Charles Fields; and The Theory of Functions given by William J Webber.

She remaining at the University of Toronto to undertake research under the supervision of William J Webber [8]:-
In her graduate studies and beyond, Krieger worked with modular elliptic functions, principles of mechanics, the theories of numbers and functions, and the theory of sets.
Her doctoral dissertation was On the summability of trigonometric series with localized properties - on Fourier constants and convergence factors of double Fourier series. It was published in two parts, the first, On the summability of trigonometric series with localized properties, in 1928 and the second, On Fourier constants and convergence factors of double Fourier series, in 1930, both in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada. When she was awarded her doctorate in 1930 from the University of Toronto, Krieger became the third woman to be awarded a doctorate in Canada and the first to be awarded a doctorate in mathematics.

Krieger spent a year at Göttingen University. Appointed an Instructor at the University of Toronto in 1928, she was promoted to Lecturer on the award of her doctorate in 1930. By this time she was working to support her unmarried sisters as well as herself, since her father had died in a car accident on 16 December 1929. During World War II, Krieger repaid the debt she felt she owed for her own salvation from persecution of Jews when she looked after a family of Jewish refugees who had fled to Canada from the Nazi horror [1]:-
It is obvious Cecilia Krieger was a very warm and caring person. University of California professor Alex Rosenberg, and his sister Edith remember her fondly. Edith recalls, "the Krieger sisters ... virtually adopted us when we arrived in Canada."
She had to work hard, however, and many felt that she never received the recognition she deserved [14]:-
Despite her credentials and experience, Krieger spent over a decade as a lecturer before being promoted to assistant professor in 1941. She taught courses in the Mathematics and Engineering departments - an average of 13 classes a week, some with as many as 75 students in each class. With such a demanding teaching schedule there was little time for research, yet she persevered, working on her own projects in the evenings.
She did not seem to be too upset by the treatment of women. For example [14]:-
When asked in 1934 about women in mathematics, Krieger answered with seeming equivocation: "It is a subject on which it is very difficult to generalise. It really depends on the individual. To be sure, so far the greatest work has been done by men, but that doesn't mean that women will not make their mark."
In 1941 she was promoted to assistant professor and she continued teaching at the University in both the Departments of Mathematics and of Engineering until she retired in 1962. Many students were encouraged by her and supported in practical ways.  For example she helped Cathleen Morawetz who was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, did war work during 1943-44 then returned to the University of Toronto to complete her degree which she was awarded in 1945 [6]:-
... while working toward her bachelor's degree at the University of Toronto in the 1940s, Morawetz recalls that Cecilia Krieger was the first, and perhaps the only, member of the faculty to take an active interest in her mathematical future. As an undergraduate at Toronto, Morawetz was committed to an intense course of study in mathematics, physics and chemistry. But the narrow focus of her studies was a frequent source of discontent. Seeking a change of pace and scenery, she took a year off between her junior and senior years of study to do war work in Quebec. On her return, still feeling somewhat dissatisfied with her studies, she ran into Cecilia Krieger on campus: "She asked me what I was going to do the following year. And I had been cooking up the idea that I was going to respond to an appeal for people to go and teach school in India. I thought that would be nice and exotic, and I had enjoyed very much going to a different city - Quebec - and I thought it would be fun. So I told her so, and she was horrified. She said, "You're not going to go the graduate school:"" Morawetz, who was doing well in mathematics but feeling ambivalent about it, protested that she couldn't afford graduate school. Krieger, who was chair of the committee for the Junior Fellowship of the Canadian University Women's Club, pointed out that money needn't be an obstacle and suggested that Morawetz apply for the award. Morawetz followed her advice and won the fellowship; Krieger's determined encouragement had caused her to take herself and her mathematics more seriously.
Peter Arthur Fillmore is a Canadian mathematician who met Krieger during the 1950s. He writes [3]:-
In the middle of the year I accidentally ran into Miss Krieger. Cecilia Krieger was a Polish Jewish woman who had emigrated to Canada after World War I, had gotten a Ph.D., worked in topology and had remained on the faculty. She was enormously charming and an enthusiastic supporter of students of Mathematics and Physics as well as of Engineering Physics. She never taught me but she was a close friend of my parents. My father considered it a disgrace that she was not promoted until well after World War II.
Krieger married the medical doctor Zygmunt Dunaj, a Jewish survivor of the Nazi holocaust, in 1953. Dunaj, whose Hebrew name was Shoma Zalman, had been born in Cracow, Poland, on 20 December 1892. After officially retiring in 1961, Krieger continued teaching at the University of Toronto until her husband died on 7 August 1966. After this she taught at Upper Canada College, a private educational institution in Toronto, until her own death at the age of 80.

Krieger made several international trips including a visit to England in the summer of 1931. She returned to Toronto via New York and, when entering the United States, she records details such as: 5 foot 5 inches tall, with dark complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. In the summer of 1936 she visited England again, and stayed at Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London. In 1945 she visited the United States for nine days and we learn from the details she gave that she was able to read and write English, Polish, French, and German. In July 1957 she visited London, England staying at Crosby Hall where the International Federation of University Women had offices and also residential accommodation for visitors. In 1960 she visited France with her husband.

In 1997 Cathleen Morawetz was awarded the Krieger-Nelson Prize Lectureship for Distinguished Research by Women in Mathematics by the Canadian Mathematical Society. In accepting the award she recalled her own memories of Krieger:-
I come to my first memory of her from, I think, Christmas 1930. My father was her colleague in mathematics at the University of Toronto. We had just returned to Canada from Ireland and Miss Krieger, as she was known to us children, took my sister and me to the pantomime. I hope I did not say so at the time, but I thought its lack of plot was very stupid (the pantomime in Ireland suffered the same defect). But there was no question that Miss Krieger was the kindest person I had ever met, and I probably did not say that either. ...

For many students of mathematics, she was the source of friendship and encouragement in every way. Her Sunday teas for students were famous for their sociability, intellectual conversation, terrific cakes and every now and then "matches"; for example, she introduced my sister to the man who became her husband. I remember learning that she was also the sole support for many years of her mother and a handicapped sister. It must be added that she lived at a time when the prejudice against women meant that she was for over twenty years not promoted from her position as lecturer.
Krieger is best known for her English translation of Sierpinski's Introduction to General Topology (1934) and General Topology (1952). In this latter book she presented a 30 page appendix on the theory of infinite cardinals and ordinals. We should also mention her work for the Canadian Association of University Women. She strongly supported women having the chance to succeed in mathematics, but when asked what chance a woman had to become successful she replied [14]:-
It really depends upon the individual.
As to her interests outside mathematics we have her own description [1]:-
When asked by a local newspaper about a mathematician's idea of relaxation, Krieger mentioned music, literature and theatre. She had no hobbies and was not interested in sports. Not surprisingly, her work was an all-consuming occupation.
Both Krieger and her husband were buried in Roselawn Cemetery, Roselawn Avenue, Toronto.

The Krieger-Nelson Prize Lectureship mentioned above was set up by the Canadian Mathematical Society in 1995. The reasons why the Society decided to name the prize for Krieger is described by Laura Turner in [13]:-
... in an effort "to attach an appropriate name to this prestigious award" the decision was made to solicit input from Canadian Mathematical Society members as well, with each submitted name to be accompanied by an explanation of why it was suitable. It is not clear just how many submissions were received by either the Executive Committee or the ad hoc committee charged with the task of gathering information, receiving suggestions, and making recommendations for names to the Canadian Mathematical Society Board, but the decision was understood as nontrivial. According to the report of the ad hoc committee, at least three possible names were proposed for the lectureship. The Executive of the Canadian Mathematical Society, having considered the possibilities, proposed in December of 1994: "That the Prize for Outstanding Research by Women in Mathematics be named the Krieger-Nelson Prize Lectureship, pending consultation with the families." The motion was carried unanimously.

References (show)

  1. K K Anand and A K Anand, Cypra Cecilia Krieger and the Human Side of Mathematics, in Despite the Odds : Essays on Canadian Women and Science (Montreal, 1990), 248-251.
  2. Cecillia Krieger Fonds 1459, Discover Archives, University of Toronto.
  3. P A Fillmore, Canadian Mathematical Society, 1945-1995: Mathematics in Canada (Canadian Mathematical Society, 1995).
  4. J A Jensen-Vallin, J L Beery, M B Mast and S J Greenwald (eds.), Women in Mathematics Celebrating the Centennial of the Mathematical Association of America (Springer International Publishing, 2017).
  5. E MacLeod, Canadian Women Now and Then More than 100 Stories of Fearless Trailblazers (Kids Can Press Ltd, 2020).
  6. M A M Murray, Women Becoming Mathematicians Creating a Professional Identity in Post-World War II America (MIT Press, 2001).
  7. B Nairns, Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present Volume 3 (Gale Group, 2001).
  8. E H Oakes, Encyclopedia of World Scientists (Facts on File, 2007).
  9. L Riddle, Cecilia Krieger April 9, 1894 - August 17, 1974, Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College (25 February 2016).
  10. G de B Robinson, Biography, Cecilia Krieger-Dunja, Notes of Canadian Mathematical Congress (January 1975).
  11. G de B. Robinson, Biography, Cecilia Krieger-Dunja, Newsletter of the Association for Women in Mathematics 5 (3) (April 1975).
  12. G de B Robinson, The Mathematics Department in the University of Toronto 1827-1978 (University of Toronto, 1979).
  13. L E Turner, The Krieger-Nelson Prize Lectureship, in J L Beery, S J Greenwald, J A Jensen-Vallin and M B Mast (eds.), Women in Mathematics 10 (Association for Women in Mathematics Series, 2017), 157-174.
  14. A Zuschlag, Cecilia Krieger, The Canadian Encyclopedia (26 October 2017).

Additional Resources (show)

Other websites about Cecilia Krieger:

  1. Agnes Scott College
  2. Mathematical Genealogy Project
  3. zbMATH entry

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