The New York Mathematical Society

Founded in 1888

The New York Mathematical Society came into being at Columbia College in New York City. Although not directly connected with the founding of the Society, we should mention the work undertaken by the President of the College, Frederick A P Barnard, in attempting to lift the standards at the College to international levels. The idea for a mathematical society in the United States came during a six month visit T S Fiske, a graduate student at Columbia College, made to England in 1887 when he visited Cambridge. He arrived with letters of introduction to Cayley, Glaisher, Forsyth and Darwin written by G L Rives, a trustee of Columbia College who had been a wrangler at Cambridge in 1872. Fiske writes [2]:-
Scientifically I benefited most from my contacts with Forsyth and from my reading with Dr H W Richmond, who consented to give me private lessons. However, from Dr Glaisher, who made me an intimate friend, who spent many an evening with me in heart to heard talks, who took me to meetings of the London Mathematical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, and entertained me with gossip about scores of contemporary and earlier mathematicians, I gained more in a general way than from anyone else. ...

On my return to New York I was filled with the thought that there should be a stronger feeling of comradeship among those interested in mathematics, and I proposed to my classmates and friendly rivals, Harold Jacoby and Edward Stabler, that we should try to organise a local mathematical Society.

Fiske, Jacoby and Stabler then distributed a proposal [2]:-
It is proposed by some recent students of the graduate school of Columbia College to establish a mathematical society for the ourpose of preserving, supplementing, and utilising the results of their mathematical studies. It is believed that the meetings of the Society may be rendered interesting by the discussion of mathematical subjects, the criticism of current mathematical literature, and solutions to problems proposed by its members and correspondents. It is also intended that original investigations to which members may be led shall be brought before the society at its meetings. It is hoped that this society may elicit you interest and be favoured with your advice. It is ernestly desired that you will assist in its organisation by being present at its first meeting hereby called for Thanksgiving Day at 10 a.m.
The meeting which Fiske, Jacoby and Stabler set up for 24 November 1888 to discuss creating the New York Mathematical Society must have been a disappointment to them for only three other people were present namely, Fiske's professor from Columbia University J H Van Amringe, Professor John K Rees, an astronomer, and a graduate student James Maclay. Despite the small number of supporters, the Society was set up with J H Van Amringe as President and Fiske, who by this time had been awarded his doctorate and had been appointed as a tutor at Columbia College, as Secretary. It had only 11 members in its first year but slowly numbers built up with J E McClintock, was to become its second President, joining the Society in December 1889.

Fiske, as Secretary of the Society, worked extremely hard to make it a success. The Society wanted to begin publishing a journal yet they knew that this would require much wider support. On the other hand they knew that through publishing a journal, they would be able to acquire the necessary wider support. At a meeting of the Society on 5 December 1890, Van Amringe, who was retiring as President at the meeting, proposed that the Society should publish a Bulletin. The Society accepted the decision to publish a journal named The Bulletin of New York Mathematical Society. It was modelled on other journals as Fiske wrote:-
The external appearance of the Bulletin, the size of its page, and the color of its cover were copied from Glaisher's The Messenger of Mathematics ... The Bulletin's character, however, was influenced chiefly by Darboux's Bulletin des Sciences Mathématique and the Zeitschrift für Mathematik ...
The Bulletin appeared in 1891, with Fiske as editor-in-chief, and he was able to write round a wide range of university and college professors and others with mathematical interests encouraging them not only to join the Society but also to subscribe to the Bulletin. By the end of 1891 his effort had increased the membership to over 200.

The New York Mathematical Society expanded to become a national society in 1894 after it was renamed the American Mathematical Society. Some details of how and why that happened is recounted in the article on the American Mathematical Society.

References (show)

  1. R C Archibald, American Mathematical Society semicentennial publications I : A semicentennial history of the American Mathematical Society, 1888-1938 (Providence, RI, 1988).
  2. R C Archibald, A semicentennial history of the American Mathematical Society, 1888-1938 (New York, 1980).
  3. T S Fiske, The beginnings of the American Mathematical Society : Reminiscences of Thomas Scott Fiske, in A century of mathematics in America I, Hist. Math. 1 (Providence, RI, 1988), 13-17.
  4. J L Synge, For the 100th birthday of the American Mathematical Society, in A century of mathematics in America I, Hist. Math. 1 (Providence, RI, 1988), 19-20.

Last Updated August 2004