Gloria Rita Olive

Quick Info

8 June 1923
New York City, USA
17 April 2006
Dunedin, New Zealand

Gloria Olive was an American mathematician who worked on on applications of generalised powers.


Gloria Olive was the daughter of Lazar Olive (1876-1956) and Florence Goldstein (1889-1960). Lazar Olive was born on 13 October 1876 in Poland (although formally it was Russia at this time) and emigrated to the USA. At the time of the World War I Registration in 1918 he gives his occupation as a 'self-employed clothing and furs manufacturer'. The Registration shows he was naturalised, married to Flora Olive and living at 534 West 178 Street, apartment 23, in Manhattan, New York City. The data he gives in the census records of 1915, 1920, 1925, 1930, and 1940 concerning his name, age, date of immigration to the United States and date of naturalisation appears to be somewhat inconsistent. His name appears as Louis (1915, 1940), Lazaar (1920, 1925) and Lazar (1930), his age is given as 36 (1915), 36 (1920), 47 (1925), 55 (1930) and 65 (1940), he immigrated in 1910 (1915, 1920), 1905 (1925), 1895 (1930). He is consistent as giving his occupation as the fur trade but his daughter Gloria said he was [3]:-
... a lawyer, businessman and amateur mathematician.
Florence was born on 20 August 1889 in New York, the daughter of Polish immigrants. Like her husband, her age is inconsistent on the census records. Lazar and Florence Olive had two children, a son Milton Olive born on 1 April 1914 in New York, who became a photographer, and Gloria Olive, the subject of this biography. Gloria said that her mother [3]:-
... gave so much and expected nothing in return.
In 1930, the Olive family moved to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Gloria Olive completed her school education at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York, graduating in 1940. She said (see [2]) that while at this High School she was more interested in ball games than in mathematics. In fact she made quite a name for herself as a sportswoman [4]:-
In 1938 she was the Manhattan Beach Women's Table Tennis Champion, and pitched for the Manhattan Beach Women's Softball Team at Madison Square Garden.
After graduating from the Abraham Lincoln High School she entered Brooklyn College in New York where her intention was to continue her sporting interests and study for a degree in Physical Education. This, however, required her to take courses on biological sciences so she changed her mind and began to study mathematics. Perhaps the most famous of her lecturers was Jesse Douglas who had been awarded the Fields Medal at the International Congress of Mathematicians at Oslo in 1936. She also took courses by Moses Richardson (1911-1968) and Walter Prenowitz (1906-2000). She graduated from Brooklyn College with an B.A. in 1944. After graduating, Olive was appointed as a Graduate Assistant at the University of Wisconsin where she spent the two academic years 1944-46. The chairman of the Mathematics Department at Wisconsin was Rudolf Ernest Langer (1894-1968) who had studied at Harvard University for his Ph.D. advised by G D Birkhoff. Olive described in her talk [9] her arrival at Wisconsin to take up her appointment:-
It was a Monday and I asked the secretary if I could make an appointment to see Professor Langer that afternoon. She replied, "Professor Langer is never here in the afternoon." So, I asked, "How about tomorrow morning?" and she said "Professor Langer is never here on Tuesday." I was glad to be able to see Professor Langer on Wednesday morning. When I arrived, he was most gracious and asked about my trip to Madison ... He then asked if I had found a place to live. When I told him I had, he said he would like to have my address and so, he called out to his secretary (in his Harvard accent): "Ms Meyer, Ms Meyer." When there was no response, he called out to his other secretary: "Ms Smith, Ms Smith." When she also failed to respond, I said, "I guess you'll have to write it down yourself."
In addition to teaching she studied for her Master's Degree during these two years and was awarded the degree of M.A. in 1946. She had taken courses at Wisconsin from Richard Hubert Bruck (1914-1991), who had been a student of Richard Brauer at Toronto, Herbert P Evans, Rudolf Ernest Langer, and Cyrus Colton MacDuffee.

From Wisconsin, Olive moved to the University of Arizona in 1946 where she was appointed as an instructor. After two years she was appointed to Idaho State University where again she spent two years teaching as an instructor. Her next appointment in Oregon State University in 1950 was as a Graduate Assistant and after this one-year post she left the academic world for a short time, taking a job as a cryptographer in the U.S. Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. After a year in Washington, Olive returned to an academic position being appointed to Anderson College in 1952.

The Anderson Bible Training School had been founded in 1917 as an educational establishment to train leaders and workers for a life in the church. It rapidly developed a broader, more general, education program, and changed its name first to Anderson College and Theological Seminary, and then to Anderson College. At Anderson College, Olive built up the mathematics department and began to become interested in mathematical research, in particular studying generalised powers. C C MacDuffee, who had taught Olive at the University of Wisconsin, agreed to accept a visiting professorship at Oregon State University so that he could supervise her doctoral thesis. Sadly he died in 1961 and Olive was left without a thesis advisor. However she was awarded a Ph.D. for her thesis Generalized Powers in 1963. She wrote in [7]:-
This paper is essentially the author's Ph.D. thesis at Oregon State University (1963) and was written while an NSF Science Faculty Fellow. The kindness of the late Professor C C MacDuffee is gratefully acknowledged and this paper is dedicated to his memory.
Olive continued to work at Anderson College until 1968 when she accepted a professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She left the mathematics department in Anderson College, of which she had been the chair, with three members of staff who were her former students. The educational establishment she joined had been accredited as Superior Normal School in 1916, then ten years later became Superior State Teachers College. By 1951 it had changed its name to Wisconsin State College-Superior, and then in 1964 it became a university, although at this stage it was not part of the University of Wisconsin. While at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, she became a founder member of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Lenore Blum writes [1]:-
The formal idea of women getting together and forming a caucus was first made publicly at a Mathematics Action Group meeting in 1971 in Atlantic City. Joanne Darken, then an instructor at Temple University and now at the Community College of Philadelphia, stood up at the meeting and suggested that the women present remain and form a caucus. I have been able to document six women who remained: me (I was a graduate student at Maryland at the time), Joanne Darken, Mary Gray (she was already at American University), Diane Laison (then an instructor at Temple), Gloria Olive and Annie Selden.
Olive stayed at the University of Wisconsin-Superior until 1972, the year after it joined the University of Wisconsin, and went to New Zealand where she was appointed as a senior lecturer at the University of Otago. Is the article [6] she wrote while at University of Wisconsin-Superior giving her opinion of the Mathematics Department there? It begins:-
One day when the boat was rocked, a passenger observed that the rudder broken. He immediately ran and told the Captain. The Captain replied. "There's no need to worry - for if the boat is not rocked again, the broken rudder won't show." A Captain with this philosophy is doomed to be the Captain of a sinking ship! On the other hand, a Captain who recognises the seriousness of the problem and somehow is able to arrange a replacement for the defective rudder, at least has a fighting chance to save his ship. A comparable situation exists when a key Department in a University has a Chairman who is committed to the destruction of his own Department. For in this role the Chairman serves as the broken rudder on the University Ship. The rudder must be replaced if the University is to survive! If the Department does not have any boat-rockers, there will not even be any passengers who will report the broken rudder to the Captain. If the Captain is fortunate enough to be informed of the broken rudder, the ship will still be doomed if the Captain deludes himself into thinking that there will be no danger if he is able to keep the boat from rocking, for then no one would see the broken rudder! And one way to keep the boat from rocking is to fill the Department with mice, for every one knows that mice are not capable of rocking boats! Also, mice might find it more comfortable to ride on a broken rudder!
Whoever this is aimed at, it says something quite revealing about Gloria Olive's character. Peter Fenton knew Olive at Otago University and his memories also give us an insight into her character [4]:-
Gloria was a senior colleague, and of course a woman, in a department largely made up of youngish males with new PhDs, kindly enough but sure of ourselves and quick to judge. Her view that teaching should be student-centred fell on deaf ears. Her exam results were consistently higher than others, and examiners meetings took a familiar form, Gloria putting her arguments against scaling, with a freshness as though she were making them for the first time, and with so much energy that for much of the meeting she was standing, and frequently gesturing, at her seat, the rest of us putting, with stony patience (if only in our minds), the counter-arguments. Invariably the rest of us prevailed. But she never gave up. On the wall of her living room hung a picture of Abraham Lincoln, with a quotation one presumes she identified with: Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it. My own relationship with Gloria was instantly turbulent. We shared the first-year calculus course, Gloria taking the afternoon stream and I the morning stream. This required regular meetings in her office to ensure that we were synchronised. She found me inflexible and wrong-headed. I found her prescriptive and condescending. Over time we forgave each other, though nothing was said, and a warmth, even affection, developed between us.
She continued as a senior lecturer at the University of Otago until she retired in 1989. Mac Lane and Rayner wrote on her retirement [5]:-
For all of her time with the Mathematics and Statistics Department of Otago University, Gloria has been the only female on the staff with tenure, and as such has been a shining example to both staff and students. She has fought hard for the issues she championed, and contributed to several worthwhile changes (such as the current internal assessment policy applauded by both staff and students). Her colleagues will miss her lively contributions to the debates in departmental meetings.
Much of Olive's research was on applications of generalised powers. She published papers such as Binomial functions and combinatorial mathematics (1979), A combinatorial approach to generalized powers (1980), Binomial functions with the Stirling property (1981), Some functions that count (1983), Taylor series revisited (1984), Catalan numbers revisited (1985), A special class of infinite matrices (1987), and The ballot problem revisited (1988). Mac Lane and Rayner write [5]:-
Some of her work on binomial functions overlaps that of Gian-Carlo Rota's "polynomials of binomial type". She has had a special interest in the polynomials which are generated by her generalised powers, and hopes that someone will prove or disprove her conjecture, now about 30 years old, that all their zeros lie on the unit circle. This conjecture has now been verified for infinitely many special cases.
In 1973 she published the book Mathematics for the Liberal Arts Students (see [8]). The Preface begins:-
This book is designed for a wide variety of college and university students, including those who have never had a course in high school mathematics. It is written in the hope that these students and others will want to become involved in mathematics so that they can learn to appreciate, understand, use, and enjoy it. A major objective is to present an interesting approach to mathematics that does not involve complicated algebraic manipulations. The topics were chosen on the basis of affirmative answers to each of the following questions: (1) Is it mathematically significant? (2) Is it easy to understand? (3) Is it interesting?
During her years in New Zealand, she served on the Council of the New Zealand Mathematical Society and was the convener of the New Zealand National Committee for Mathematics. She retired in 1989 and in that year was invited to address the Mathematical Association of America's joint meeting with the 852nd meeting of the American Mathematical Society held at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana on 27-28 October 1989. She gave the Invited Address Does Rudolf Steiner have the answer?

Peter Fenton describes Olive's final illness [3]:-
Gloria Olive died at Redroofs, a nursing home in Dunedin [New Zealand], on 17 April 2006. She had been ill for several months. Towards the end of her life, Gloria relied on a thick magnifying glass to read, but eventually even that proved ineffective, and when she was no longer able to walk she consciously allowed herself to die. There was a death notice in the 'Otago Daily Times' but, at Gloria's request, no funeral. She left her body to medical science.

References (show)

  1. L Blum, A brief history of the Association for Women in Mathematics: The Presidents' Perspectives, Notices Amer. Math. Soc. 38 (7) (1991), 738-774.
  2. D Farquhar and L Mary-Rose, Women sum it up: biographical sketches of women mathematicians (Hazard Press, Christchurch, N.Z., 1989).
  3. P Fenton, Gloria Olive June, 8, 1923 - April 17, 2006, Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College (14 April 2019).
  4. P Fenton, Gloria Olive, New Zealand Math. Soc. Newsletter (August 2006), 22-24.
  5. S Mac Lane and John Rayner, Gloria Olive, New Zealand Math. Soc. Newsletter No. 45 (1989), 22-23.
  6. G Olive, Don't Give up the Ship, Improving College and University Teaching 20 (4) (1972), 328.
  7. G Olive, Generalized Powers, The American Mathematical Monthly 72 (6) (1965), 619-627.
  8. G Olive, Mathematics for the Liberal Arts Students (The Macmillian Company, New York, 1973).
  9. G Olive, Looking Backward and Forward (Some personal and mathematical disclosures), Colloquium in Dunedin (2004).

Additional Resources (show)

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