About Me

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Riverside County, California, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 24 times over and a great-grandmother of 13. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I am a Board Certified genealogist and more information on all this, as well as direct contact info, is on my Circlemending website.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

L. Roy Wilcox, PhD - Autobiography, Part 11

E7: 1938-1940

As at Princeton, I waited until I reached Madison to make living arrangements. This time I had a shorter trip from home and I had my car to carry my personal luggage. I learned where North Hall, the mathematics building, was and went there directly to announce my arrival and inquire as to procedures to find off-campus living quarters. By good luck, a Mrs. [Adelaide] Skinner, widow of a late department member, had a room to rent. In short order I went to her house and rented the room (again $15 per week). Here I would be the only roomer, and my room was very large, even equipped with a washstand. There was no shower – only a tub – but I couldn’t expect everything. On [Lathrop] street-parking was OK, but I later found that with 25° to 30° below zero temperatures, a heated garage would be needed. And there was one a block away, which I used each winter.

There were no private offices for faculty. (I had had one since the U of C.) The building was much too small for such a large department. (In fact, this was a gigantic University compared to those that I had known.) Apart from about twelve mathematics faculty members with professional ranks, there were seven instructors, of whom I was one. It turned out that the others – Don Hyers, Dick Kershner, Bernard Friedman, Bob Wagner, Churchill Eisenhart, and someone whose situation was special – were not regarded as slated for ultimately permanent appointments, but that I was. 

Don Hyers, Roy Wilcox, Dick Kershner

The department had no faculty member in the field of geometry and I had been selected to work toward the geometry slot, because of my background in that field. (Accordingly, I was getting $400 more in salary than each of the others.) If a department of 18 members seems small for a big University it should be remembered that there are countless graduate assistants, each teaching one or two elementary courses in small sections. (Often, but not here, such courses are handled through big lectures and “quiz sections.” I later came to realize that the Wisconsin system was by far the better one.)

My teaching assignment was a bit heavy I thought (14 class hours per week in for courses). The first year was uneventful. Teaching went well, due in part to my previous experience; I taught only freshmen and sophomores. Engineering majors too, a different sequence of math courses, and the faculty for them was separate from the main (liberal arts) group, though all were in the same department, headed by Prof. Mark Ingraham, who later became Dean and became very active in American Mathematical Society and organizational affairs.

My closest friends among my fellow instructors were Don Hyers, whose mathematical and musical interests were close to mine, Bob Wagner with whom I played billiards, and Dick Kershner. Dick and I didn’t have much in common during my first year, except that he and his wife Amanda liked to play bridge and sometimes invited me to “fill in.” Bob Wagner left after one year, and our association was short, though we have kept up contacts through the years.

But I felt it too narrowing to limit my contacts to fellow mathematicians. A small taste of faculty club life during my U of C Summers led me to investigate the University club. While this club was designed for, used by, and managed by faculty members, it was run as a private club with no administrative or financial connections with the University. The building was not even on University property, but was adjacent to the campus. I immediately joined, so that I could eat lunch there and use the facilities. Except for Kershner, the other male instructors had a living quarters there. Even had I known of the existence of such quarters I would have preferred the more quiet environment that I had selected.

It was at the club that I learned to play billiards seriously (not pool, but three-ball, straight rail billiards). This activity alone got me contacts, some becoming quite important to me, with non-mathematical people. The man who taught me what I learned (and know even now) about billiards, was Miles Henley, English professor, who was a renowned linguist. He specialized in American dialects and provincial usages; what a find, for one incipient linguist such as I! I spent many hours with him at the billiard table soaking up what I could about language. From here I first learned what “hyper urbanisms” are and the mysteries of “virtual words.” These latter would have given me plenty to do research on, had I carved out a career in linguistics.[1]

There were several things which were unpleasant about Madison. First, it is a city with many hills, and the campus has its share. Parking on campus was impossible unless one was a Dean or a Regent; I couldn’t even wangle a permit out of a M. Wilcox, in charge of campus grounds. So I made a practice of parking near the University Club, except during the cold weather, i.e. most of the winter, when I walked the mile or so to and from the campus, leaving the car in the garage. Also, my abode was across the street from the athletic field, the source of much noise at times. (I had learned at Princeton to try to get out of town on football weekends and of course here I could do the same by spending such weekends in Wilmette.) But there is no denying that Madison was a beautiful city, with three lakes nearby, one right next to the campus. (North Hall was so named because Lake Mendota precluded any building north of that building.).

The year was a smooth one; I had plenty to do, with my teaching, research work, and recreational activities, including tennis principally with Don Hyers, flute duets with Don, evenings with the “gang” at a local pub, etc. As to feminine company I thought that my experiences with the dearth of it during my E4, E5, E6 periods would not be repeated, since a State University would teem with females. The U of W was no exception: hordes of girls covered the campus, and it was said about their climb up the hill toward North Hall, with the statue of Lincoln (seated) at the top, that he would rise whenever a virgin reached the top. But I soon learned of the roadblocks. It was against University policy for (male) faculty members to date undergraduate students. Mathematics had a few female graduate students who were normally sought by the younger (male) graduate students. There were townspeople, a hospital with courses, even a nursing school, but there was no ready way to get acquainted with these people (unless one went to church or joined some local organization). Of my instructor friends only one, Bob Wagner, seemed to make out. Churchill Eisenhart eventually made out by cozying up to a waitress at a local restaurant and then marrying her. Somehow Don Hyers got acquainted with a girl at the nursing school, whom he dated a bit. On one occasion I joined him on a blind double date. But she wasn’t too bright or attractive, and, although I later accepted her invitation to her school dance, I had no interest in furthering the matter.

Occasionally one learns an important principle respecting one’s behavior; after all, one isn’t born wise. My first lesson along this line I learned at the end of my first Madison year. While elementary courses were large, they were taught in grade sections, as already noted. But final examinations were common, held in large rooms, and were designed by those teaching the course. In the second semester I taught such a course and all the remaining were graduate assistants. During the writing of the examination, the other instructors insisted on including a question on a book outside the course syllabus, all of them had covered it, but I had not. My negative vote carried too little weight. So at the examination time I announced that students in my section would not be required to answer that question. Chairman Ingraham learned of this later and called me on the carpet. I argued my case, but he claimed that I should have been more forceful in trying to keep the question off the examination. He was wrong, of course. More than that, the procedure was wrong in two ways: first, examinations should be separate for separate sections, since students should be tested over only the material they were exposed to; secondly, if common exams are given, they should result from a unanimous decision of the group. Here I learned that one must be more creative in going along with existing policy, however stupid it might be. It would take more experience to direct me toward a good personal policy for dealing with such matters. Later items relevant to this should get described in E8 and E9.

The next summer was spent in Wilmette where I worked on my research projects and enjoyed a vacation. There was swimming with Mort Mergentheim in Winnetka, and I was able to play billiards, since the University club had reciprocity compacts with the faculty clubs, and I could get a summer membership at the club at Northwestern University. There I played often with a returned professor who was a good match for me. During this summer the Pontiac developed transmission trouble and so I traded it for a 1936 Chevrolet two-door sedan. Again, price was $365 (less trade in).

My second Madison year was an eventful one indeed, good and not so good. On the first day I met Bob Coe, who was enrolling as a graduate assistant in our department. He had been a theater organist until sound films knocked him out of his profession, had briefly worked for the telephone company, and then decided to get a college education at Carroll College, majoring in mathematics. He was found so capable there upon graduation he was recommended for graduate work at the U of W – Madison. The day I met him, we conversed briefly, and then he told me about his background. I made a comment something like “So you are a tibia roller.” He perked up, knowing that I was no novice regarding the theater organ. This began our close friendship and association lasting until his death in [April] 1982.

Now it happened that Bob had a connection with the firm that owned the Capitol Theater* in town which he knew had a fine organ, which had undoubtedly deteriorated. Through some conniving he got permission to repair the organ and use it for his enjoyment. I was to be his assistant and thus have the opportunity to play on it. So from 8 to 12 AM [unclear if this is really 8 AM – 12 PM or 8 PM – 12 AM; the transcriptionist suspects the latter since the author was not a morning person] twice a week we worked through most of the 1939 – 40 year bringing the organ up to par and having great fun. I learned much from Bob not only about repairing and tuning but also about playing techniques. The manager was opposed to this project (since power use cost him money), but he had been overruled. Now one part couldn’t be repaired there, but had to be taken out. It was a heavy box; and we had sneak it out lest the manager see us “stealing” theater property. So one morning Bob enlisted three of his student friends; we parked by the rear theater door which was open. Luckily the theater was dark: Bob and I went to the balcony where the organ chamber was located, secured the box, tied a long electric cord around it, let it down over the balcony front to the fellows below. They received it and rushed it to my car. We had noted that the manager was there (an unusual event so early), and we knew that if the electric cord broke we would all be in the soup. What luck we had! The repair was made by the time of our next scheduled visit to the theater; we knew that no secrecy was now needed, since the manager wouldn’t object to our bringing something in.

The second important event stemmed from the fact that Don Hyers was no longer dating the nurse, but had become acquainted with a girl in Milwaukee, Wanda Deming, in whom he had become quite interested. One day he asked whether I’d like to join him in a double date: Wanda had a friend, Virginia Johnson, who would be my date. Don and I would drive to Milwaukee (in his car), and plan to stay in a hotel overnight. We could thus see the girls both Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon before returning to Madison. Answer: yes. (As it developed, the answer should have been YES!!)

Virginia’s family was by no means an academic one; in fact her father was …?... though a business man, and a good one. But she had an academic orientation having graduated from Carroll College (my second “contact” with Carroll) and had a Master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee. I was especially struck by her voice – not deep but very sonorous and distinctive.

I looked forward to possibly more dates with her; if – and this crossed my mind – we were to see each other further, there was the advantage of dissimilarities in our educational and professional backgrounds. Of course there were indeed several double dates thereafter, Don and my cars alternating. I planned to spend the Christmas holidays in Madison, and so I tried to get a date with Virginia for New Year’s Eve. No soap, since she already had one. Oh well. So I spent the evening with Bob Coe and his friends. But the following spring things picked up with even some single dates in Milwaukee. Then it developed that Don and Wanda were to be married in April (1940); he asked me and I agreed to be his “best man.” After the wedding, Virginia and I had another date – an important one, based on some careful consideration by me of the pros and cons of single life. We planned to marry in December.

Throughout the academic year, Dick Kershner and I became better acquainted. Initially he and I didn’t see eye to eye on some basic mathematical ideas.[2] But slowly he was coming around to my position, and by my second Madison year we were very much in harmony; he even proposed that we might take some steps toward dissemination of the “gospel.” Suffice it to say here, we agreed to write a book and started on it the following summer. Because of WWII, we didn’t get to complete it and have it published until 1950. More on this elsewhere.[3] Our affinity led to closer social relations between me and the two Kershners. So when Virginia would come to Madison, for our date or a dance at the University Club, she would stay at the Kershners. So even before our marriage, the Kershners and Wilcoxes became very close friends.

Of course, Virginia met Bob Coe, and they hit it off quite well. On one of the visits to Madison, Bob took us to the Capitol Theater where, by that time, the organ was in superb condition. She and Bob sat in the balcony, and I serenaded her. Since the theater, as usual, was dark, I always suspected that she didn’t listen very much but instead conversed with Bob throughout the “concert.” Oh well; there would be times later when ignoring my playing wasn’t so easy. Clearly Bob was the right guy to play the organ at our wedding, which would be at Virginia’s church in Milwaukee.

Now came the first setback in my career. In April, a new governor was elected in Wisconsin – a “self-made” plumbing goods manufacturer, Julius Heil. Now Heil had no idea what a university was or how one operated. So he sneaked around the campus to find out. When he found that professors were often not in their offices on “working” days, he decided that the university was mismanaged and should have its funds reduced. (He might have asked a few questions and learned that professors are often in libraries or teaching classes, or attending seminars or meetings or working at home; but he didn’t have sense enough for that.) He had no trouble getting the State Legislature (largely ignorant farmers) to vote a 10%, across the board, decrease in the University appropriation. When this news reached our department, there was consternation, since costs had to be reduced. I still don’t know how Chairman Ingraham planned to deal with this disaster; the tenured faculty would be secure of course, except for possible payouts; but we little guys could be dispensed with. In my conference with the Chairman I was told that my job wasn’t in jeopardy, but there could be no promise of the future for me as had been envisaged. After all, no one could know how long Heil would remain as governor or how long it would take to restore proper level of financing the University. (As it turned out, Heil was voted out of office two years later; but it took ten years before the University got back to where it had been, in size, scope, quality, and the level of funding.)

My decision was clear: I would put out the word that I was available. And it was clear to me that, if I had a choice, I would prefer a private rather than public university, because too many uninformed and disinterested people could exercise power over the latter, while the former would be managed by an interested and, one hopes, an informed board of trustees. Our marriage plans remained in place; as a last resort my Madison job would be in hand; after marriage we could get an apartment and live there. The next summer, while I was spending some time at Virginia’s family’s summer home at Beaver Lake, Wisconsin, a phone call came to me from a Dr. Grinter, vice-president of Armour Institute of Technology on the South Side of Chicago (in the process of combining with a liberal arts college to become Illinois Institute of Technology). Would I be interested in considering an assistant professorship at $2400 a year? If so, when could I confer about it with him at the Armour campus? Answer: yes, and as soon as convenient.

I knew little about Armour Institute, except that I had seen from the “L” its “campus” – a few old buildings and a big vacant lot (for athletic events): hardly an impressive-appearing place. But teaching in Chicago would have its advantages, since I already had friends there, including the U of C people. I knew only one faculty member at Armour, a U of C PhD, who was rather kooky. Also, the assistant professor rank was appealing. The interview was a pleasant one; apparently the VP Grinter was satisfied with my background and promise. He turned me over to the President, Henry T. Heald, for an hour’s conference. He also presented his long-range program to me: expansion of IIT into a true University, enlargement of the 7.5 acre “campus,” upgrading faculty – especially by adding promising young PhD’s to the very meager thus …[looks like “audified”...] existing faculty and weeding out deadwood. With this story and Heald’s compelling personality, I became almost enthusiastic to accept. Leaving the President I then went to talk to the mathematics Chairman, Lester Ford. This interview was a minor detail, for he told me almost immediately that my appointment was up to the higher-ups; he evidently had no voice in the matter. In due course I got the appointment letter: things were looking up.

I had often in the past attended summer meetings of the American Mathematical Society. The meeting in 1940 was in Madison, a sort of last hurrah for me. With the opening of the fall term I would live at home in Wilmette and commute to IIT by car or train until the Christmas holidays, during which the big event would take place.

Maybe my career hadn’t been set back a great deal after all; much would depend on how Pres. Heald’s vision of the future of IIT would materialize. After all, life is made up of gambles: now I was gambling on a new career, the effectiveness of college President, and shortly a new life as a married man. Possibly this new gamble would be a success, as early will ones had been.






[1] See appendix.
* Now the Overture Center
[2] See F2.
[3] See F2.

Friday, February 7, 2014

L. Roy Wilcox, PhD - Autobiography, Part 10

E6: 1936-1938, POST-DOCTORAL PERIOD AT THE INSTITUTE FOR ADVANCED STUDY

The Pennsylvania Railroad was to see me from time to time in these years. An overnight trip got me from Chicago to North Philadelphia. A change of trains was needed to get to Princeton Junction, whence by a three-mile shuttle trip I would arrive at Princeton. At Christmas the trip was reversed; after the holidays the entire process would be repeated, and I would be home for the summer after the second term.

In those days one shipped most belongings in a trunk; I didn’t travel light. Although we were still poor, I learned that a trip by coach worth the small extra cost. I found the upper berth better than the lower. This was the routine until I got a car in 1937.

On my first arrival at Princeton I was a bit [unprepared], not having been able to make any contacts earlier. So I stayed one night at a hotel in town (not the best, I learned later, but with space) and the next day made my way to the IAS headquarters in “Fine Hall,” graduate mathematics building of Princeton University. The two institutions were almost entirely separate, but a close relationship existed between the two groups of personnel.

To help indentify the IAS, I quote here from the foreword The Institute for advanced study 1930 to 1954:
“The Institute . . . will permit.” – Robert Oppenheimer (then Institute director) [It is apparent that the intention was to reference this work to complete this quote, not included in the manuscript.]
Initially, the IAS was intended solely [for] mathematics and mathematical physics; later a few other fields were added.

On my first day I quickly made some acquaintances and inquired as to how I might find a place to live. By luck I asked the right person, Al Clifford who summoned another man Wallace Givens. They both were renting rooms in a private residence where there was still one vacant room. It took little time to make necessary arrangements, ending with my renting, for $15 weekly, a small room; ideally located well away from the other four rooms which were respectively occupied by Al, Wallace, a chemist Joe Hüstenfelder, and the landlady Elizabeth Cleary, 60ish but vivacious and most pleasant. This was to be my Princeton abode for the next three years. As it turned out, I couldn’t have asked for a better “family.” And 43 Vandeventer was located only three blocks from Fine Hall.
Roy in front of the Vandeventer residence, Princeton, New Jersey


I learned the ropes easily from my newly found friends. There was an excellent French restaurant only a few blocks away. There one could have three meals a day for one dollar! (I tried that arrangement briefly but soon shifted to a dinner only plan – $.60 per day – since breakfast and good light lunches could be had elsewhere.) There were teas daily (4:00 to 6:00 PM daily) for social and professional contacts, bridge playing, etc.[1]

Soon an appointment with the Institute director, Dr. Abraham Flexner, was made for me. The main purpose was to tell me – and I remember his exact words: “Here you have no duties only opportunities” – which I had already surmised. And the opportunities were many indeed; there were six “professors”: Oswald Veblen, John von Neumann, Marston Morse, Albert Einstein, James Alexander, and Herman Weyl; in addition there were some members, including professors on sabbatical leave known all over the US, and post-doctoral people like me, and a few “assistants” to the professors. Everyone was free to conduct lectures, a lecture series, seminars, gab fests, etc.; And everyone was free to attend any of them as he chose, as well as similar offers by the Math Department of Princeton University.

My first appointment was with Prof. Oswald Veblen, friend and erstwhile colleague of my thesis advisor (Mr. Lane), and now the principal professor in the School of Mathematics. He gave me the information I needed concerning the way the Institute operated. For example, I learned that Fine Hall was open to members 24 hours per day (each member having a key), and that the library (all of the top floor of Fine Hall) was also open all the time. I later realized that this library had as complete an advanced mathematics collection as existed anywhere. It was effectively run strictly on the honor system, with a top librarian to help find things if need be. It took me little time to learn the details necessary for coping with a living and working situation of a kind new to me. I had never been away from home and family before, nor had I been in such a situation of complete self-management.

I took full advantage of the new opportunities by attending lecture series in several subjects that I had never heard of. The mathematics here was unbelievably far ahead of any I had met at the U of C and I was beginning to realize that my graduate education there was far less than it seemed and as it should have been. The reason I began to realize, was that most of the U of C professors had been students of the professors of earlier times, who had done pioneer work in their field, and that their students were engaged in focusing on more or less routine extension of the earlier work. When my thesis submitted earlier for publication was turned down on the grounds not that it wasn’t good work, but that it was in a work “passé.” The full force of the need to get myself into the modern mathematics world hit me. One of my objectives, though, was to learn at least one field, new to me, adequately enough to do acceptable research in it – no small task, but my start was underway.

My career had so far exhibited fortuitous features; another piece of good luck was about to occur. Professor von Neumann had a lecture series I had attended in the first term. The Professor began a new series at the start of the second term. As it happened, his assistant had got seriously behind in his work and for some reason didn’t attend the first second-term lecture. Von Neumann, noting this absence, asked if someone would be willing to take notes. He seemed to be looking at me and I nodded: Von Neumann’s new subject was “continuous geometry” of furthering of a brand new field of mathematics lattice theory. Secretly I hoped that I would be continuing to “pinch-hit,” so that I could grow easily in the new field which excited me greatly. And this is just what did happen: the absent assistant had all he could do to complete work on the notes of the first term!

Now Flexner’s promise seemed violated, for I did indeed have duties! Typically my afternoon after a lecture was spent preparing “the notes,” discussing them with von Neumann, and getting them to the secretary, who would prepare the stencils the next morning. Then an afternoon (sometimes going into the evening) I would process them and get them back to the secretary. By the next day, the time of the next lecture, the pages were ready for distribution. This task might have been less daunting had von Neumann been an ordinary lecturer. But his speed was about three times great as the one lecture, and the size of the notes reflected that. I was now performing the exact functions of an assistant (without pay for it, of course).

With these duties, I had gained untold opportunities. In order to get to the point of doing research in any established field, even in a small one, one mainly has to gain considerable background – to learn what has been done already. But when one enters a fledgling field as lattice theory was then, there is precious little by way of background to research. And one has the advantage of participating in the building of the foundations of the subject, almost from the start.

As the end of the first year near, a decision as to the following year had to be made. But before I even inquired about a shift in role from member to von Neumann’s assistant, I was told by Veblen in that, at von Neumann’s request, I would be so named. The lecture series carried out with term ending could go on for at least another year. (I had an offer of an instructorship at UCLA, but had turned it down, feeling that I needed more of the post-doctoral work that I was doing before entering teaching.) Now I would have a salary of $1500 per year. Actually, I remained as von Neumann’s assistant for an additional year, since he had, by that time, done enough research to present a further year of lectures. As it happened, my duties in that last year were lessened, since for some reason von Neumann felt that his approach in the final year’s development wasn’t the best possible and he therefore did not want notes prepared and distributed. (I took them anyway, but did not [type] them up, on the chance that he would change his mind! He did not.)

By my second year at the IAS I reduced attendance at seminars, etc. so that I could give thought to research areas. During that year and the following I was able to work on and complete two definitive papers (one with a coauthor, Malcolm Riley,[2] an old friend from the U of C who had got his degree two years after I had), later published; and I began work on a third paper, also ultimately published.

During my last year at the IAS I had two job nibbles, the first from the University of Cincinnati and a later one from the University of Wisconsin. The first resulted in a sort of offer after I had visited Cincinnati during the winter break but it never became definite. I had little enthusiasm for the location and didn’t pursue the matter. When Prof. Cyrus MacDuffee from the University of Wisconsin at Madison [result of an IAS project] approached me with a definite offer, it didn’t take me long to decide to accept. I would be an instructor at $2200 per year.

Very few “eligible” young ladies were left in Princeton. The school was then for males only, and there were very few females at the IAS. The town “girls” were maiden ladies left over after the graduating seniors from the University had carried off the cream. There were occasional dances (one per year hosted by Dr. Flexner); for dates to these I made do with the maiden ladies available. Some members at the IAS had wives and had brought them to Princeton. These were evenings with some of these couples. At 43 Vandeventer we roomers sometimes had parties inviting town girls. But most of the social life was in the form of gab fests, games (e.g., Go, Canasta, Bridge) among single males. The exception occurred during my second year, when I somehow got acquainted with a nursing student in Philadelphia. (She was related to some people I knew in Princeton.) There were a few dates with her and after a period of inactivity I learned that she had married.

It was some consolation that Princeton was place of many musical events. There were organ concerts by famous organist at the chapel; and there was a fair amount of chamber music on the campus. (Einstein usually attended and always congratulated the performers afterward.) A few other musical matters are dealt with in F 1. Unfortunately I was able to get to New York or Philadelphia [only] occasionally, to hear their reputation-great symphony orchestras.

Once during my first IAS year at the spring break I went to Boston (train to New York, boat to Boston) to visit with Mort Mergentheim, now at Harvard Law school, during our spring break. And during my second and third years I took weekend trips to northern New Jersey where my old friend Clarence Baerveldt was living and preparing for the Presbyterian ministry. I hadn’t made those trips (by railroad) more than a few times when Clarence suggested that I get a (used) car. In fact, he took me to a dealer in East Orange; I bought a 1933 Pontiac four-door sedan for $365 (the only car I ever bought on time). 

I secured a New Jersey driver’s license (Illinois still didn’t require one). Thenceforth I had better control over my transportation. I could now enjoy more local attractions than I could earlier. Thus I could get over to Asbury Park, a delightful town on the coast, and could try a variety of seafood restaurants in the Princeton area. (It was at this time that I enjoyed my first experience with oysters, clams, crabs, etc.)

My years at Princeton added up to nothing short of a wonderful experience. I grew professionally, became weaned from my family, and learned the art of “personal administration.” A typical workday, when I became an Assistant, went something like this:
               12 noon or so:                   Arise, get a brunch
               1 – 2 PM:                         Attend a lecture or seminar (not all were                                                         where I had duties!)
               2 – 4 PM:                            Play tennis or squash with a colleague[3]
               4 – 8 PM:                            Tea, plus a long bridge game
               8 – 9 PM:                            Dinner at Lakiere’s[?]
               9 PM – 12 AM:                   Late movie
               12 – 1 AM:                          Game (usually with Al Clifford) at 43                                                             Vandeventer
               1 – 5 or 6 AM:                    Work on my research

The schedule was of course different on von Neumann’s lecture days, with the 2 to 4 and 9 to 12 periods devoted to work on lecture notes. As can be seen from the table, I had become fed up with the U of C early morning schedules and chucked them as soon as I could; I became and remained a “late” person. The main advantage to working through the wee hours was that there were then no distractions. More on this in section F2.

(One word about bridge, etc. while as a grad student at the U of C, I noted that some of my fellows’ students played bridge incessantly – to the point of addiction. So I steered clear of the game. At least one very capable but addicted student I knew substituted bridge for studying and never got his degree. But at the IAS I got interested in the game and found it possible to work it in without damaging my professional life. After leaving the IAS I played only rarely; usually people who played didn’t do so very seriously, and I wasn’t accustomed to that. While I always enjoyed games of skill, e.g., chess, Bridge, billiards, they never played a major role in my life.)

Summers during this period were by no means wasted: they supplemented the important active things at Princeton. I lived at my Wilmette home, of course, but spent weekdays at the U of C, where office facilities were available for visiting mathematicians. I was surprised to find a number of my IAS colleagues there too, taking advantage of the U of C hospitality – one of our group, a Princeton University professor, was teaching at Northwestern during the summer and rooming in Wilmette. Since he joined the group at the U of C, I got a ride home, since he had a car. The U of C gave us privileges at the Quadrangle (faculty) club, with facilities for tennis, billiards, and meals. All in all this was a most enjoyable summer.

The second summer (of 1937) was much like the first, except that I had a visiting instructorship at the U of C; many of the old group were there again. 
Roy, his mother Pauline (in car), and the 1933 Pontiac; ca 1937, Wilmette, Illinois


The course that I taught was along the lines of my new lattice theory interest; one of my students became so interested he asked me to become his Master’s thesis advisor. I readily gave him a Master’s level problem and started him off. After I left, he continued his work under Mr. Barnard[?] and, I understood, later got the degree. Another experience was to be appointed to the PhD final oral examination committee for my old friend Malcolm Smiley who had now completed his work toward the PhD. He passed, of course, and turned up at the IAS in the fall! In fact, a room at my rooming house became available and he moved in. That year we developed and wrote our joint paper.

When these years were over, I had about finished my “growing up” period; I had positioned myself well for future research work, and a proper University teaching career seemed assured. I had also grown up politically. Wilmette was my official residence, and so I voted absentee in the 1936 Presidential election – for Roosevelt (and I voted for the same candidate three more times). My Pontiac was still running well; I maintained the New Jersey registration until I got to Madison. The summer of 1938 passed uneventfully, except that I again frequented the U of C and [commentary ends here].*






[1] At the IAS the custom was to use appropriate titles – Professor, Doctor, etc. as appropriate.
[2] Malcolm eventually became a professor at …?… where he stayed until …?… was too much. His career ended at SUNY. (He died a few years ago.)
[3] Shortly after arriving at Princeton I asked the gymnasium management for privileges at the gym – locker, towels, free use of facilities, etc. They hadn't heard of the IAS, but heard my request and decided to extend a special reduced rate privileges not only to me but for all IAS personnel. I was thanked by many for my action.
* Not included here but most likely the process during the Princeton years, during the summer, after Roy got a car: his Sundays were spent taking his parents to church, then his father to the Cook County Jail to play music for and preach to the inmates and taking his mother to the Foster Park German Baptist Church on Paulina, later picking up his father from the train and driving him to the home of a German Church parishioner to join his wife for dinner at that location. (This according to oral interviews by the transcriptionist with Roy Wilcox in ca. 1979 and 1997-99.) 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

L. Roy Wilcox, PhD - Autobiography, Part 9-B

E5: 1929-1935

Part B – Graduate Period: Winter 1932 – Spring 1935 inclusive

It seems that from an academic point of view I was now sitting pretty. No tuition to pay and an ideal plan of study: continue the differential geometry with E. P. Lane (one of the best instructors in my view) begun in the fall; I could anticipate learning enough in the two spring months to specialize in that field and maybe begin a Masters thesis by summer. With the free period then I might be able to complete the thesis in time to come up for the degree the following December.

The University, however, threw a nasty communication at me. True, I had been extended the one-year senior mathematics scholarship; but my letter stated, I was no longer a senior and so I couldn’t use the scholarship. (No such condition had been stated in my acceptance document.) The Department’s Chairman and Division Dean tried without success to get the University to back down from its high-handed action, and so the Dean assigned me a “service” scholarship for the two quarters which would cover tuition, but would require me to perform some minimal task. As it turned out, this worked out well, since my task was to grade homework papers for one of the instructors (with whom I had taken calculus and whom I knew well and liked). The experience I got was well worth the effort I put in. At the end of the year I was awarded a fellowship paying tuition plus $200 ($500 in all) for 1933 to 1934. For that I would have to give some sort of service. Otherwise, my plans all worked out perfectly. In fact Mr.[1] Lane was delighted to take me on and gave me a master’s [skewed] research problem. I returned the following fall and had conference with Mr. Lane during which I presented my results, led [sic.] to his accepting what I had done as sufficient to be written up as the thesis. The fall quarter was spent in writing, getting Mr. Lane’s approval, reviewing for the Master’s exam (which was oral only), passing same, and of course, taking three courses; broadening my background into some new (to me) subfields. My fellowship service would be to teach an elementary course in the spring.


With the S. M. Degree under the belt by winter I could now get down to business. Again I took courses, including one or two in my specialty. Near the end of the year it was déjà vu: I got a doctoral thesis problem from Mr. Lane to be worked on in the summer. The spring course that I was assigned to teach was analytic geometry, which would have been my first choice anyway. This first full teaching experience was fun; by now I had already decided that University teaching would be my profession, and this taste assured me of the correctness of my decision. In the class was a bright, attractive girl with whom I had some campus “dates,” at which I usually played piano for her (at her request). (There was no rule against such socializing.) I wasn’t serious about Olga Adler of course – she was good company. (I’m sure my mother would have been nonplussed – Olga was Jewish!) We corresponded over the summer but the next year I saw her only once or twice, from afar, with a boyfriend. Oh, well, now that I had a fellowship (this time for a total of $800, the highest amount ever given, and enough to pay me back for the $300 the University had wheedled out of me), I might teach another course.

The next fall I returned with my thesis results. Before I had presented all of them to Mr. Lane, he stopped me and said, “Write up the material to this point, and that will be your thesis.” I had of course a full year to write this material and have it typed. The idea would be perhaps to work up the remainder for publication in a post-doctoral paper. While I had a full year of more coursework to take there was plenty of time to do other things so I extended some of my Master’s thesis work, presented it to Mr. Lane, and at his suggestion submitted it for publication. His influence might have helped – the paper was accepted!

My last quarter was spent preparing for the final examination (oral, of course), finishing off the thesis, taking the usual three courses, and teaching analytic geometry again. One of the members of that class was Herbert Simon, who later became an economist, was a colleague of mine at IIT, and a few years back was awarded a Nobel Prize. I got to know him quite well, but much later: he seldom attended class preferring to work independently. (More comments on this shortly.) And there was a bright, attractive girl in the class. Again there were some “campus ‘dates’,” and again I didn’t get serious. (My mother would have been nonplussed: Margaret Stone was Catholic!) The exam went well; I was elected to Sigma Xi (honorary scientific society) and got my PhD on schedule on June 11, 1935.


Art and Leora, who attended the convocation along with my parents graciously suggested a celebration at their home afterward: dinner and a social evening. They also asked me to select and invite one of my classmates. A friend who also received the PhD seemed an appropriate choice since his family lived too far away to attend the convocation. 


The event was enjoyed by all; I remember few details except that I played the piano, sight-reading Schubert’s Rosamunde Suite from Leora’s sheet music, and that even Leora played along on the violin.

My memories of the graduate friends are pleasant ones. I got to know well and enjoy a number of graduate students. There were several aids toward this end. First, the department provided the fellows and a few other graduate students with small private offices on the top floor of the mathematics building; this facilitated interplay. There were weekly afternoon teas, attended by most mathematics faculty and graduate students. Every other week the Mathematics Club (research oriented) met after the tea, and on off weeks the Junior Mathematics Club met (with a more elementary orientation). I spoke several times at each club and as senior fellow, served as president of the Junior Club during my last year. The Mathematics Library was separate from the main University library (a correct plan) – it was heavily used, so that people “ran into” one another often. We had a close-knit group. Relations between students and faculty were also easy and cordial.
Junior Math Club (Roy is at far left)


I had high personal regard for almost all the mathematics faculty members; there were at least six (out of about 10) from whom I learned a great deal and toward whom I felt indebted for one reason or another. Mr. Lane was of course no one to whom I felt most gratitude not only was he an ideal thesis adviser, but he had an important effect on my entire future. As my impending completion of work at the U of C approached, we discussed possible plans for my next year. I had applied for a National Research Council (NRC) fellowship – support of me for or guidance of post-doctoral research at a chosen university, but was not appointed. So Mr. Lane agreed to recommend me for a “membership” on the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton, N.J., similar to an NRC fellowship. He knew well the mathematics director there. Another possibility was a one-year instructor ship at the U of C. But Mr. Lane advised me to keep that possibility as a last resort, feeling that it would be to my interest to receive the branding that would result from a connection elsewhere. The Institute for advanced study appointment came through in due time, and my immediate future became secure: the stipend would be $1200, and the period at the IAS would be expected between October and May with a month break at holiday time.


Also, Mr. Lane gave me great insights into what applied mathematics and indeed science in general is all about, and Mr. B[ounend?]’s courses provided me with an understanding of what mathematics itself is all about – what makes it tick, and what constitutes precision of thought and critical attitude throughout one’s contacts with the subject. It was he who provided the inspiration which led later to my co-authoring the Anatomy of Mathematics.

There was one more other faculty member who deserves special mention: Mr. Walter Bartky, my freshman astronomy teacher, the top member of the astronomy trio, with whom I had had several courses, seemed to take a special interest in me. Early in my last year he called me to his office after having received an odd request: two executives at the Saturday Evening Post magazine had called him to ask for help in navigating. Each owned a yacht and did his own navigating but was anxious to get some instruction in the whys and wherefores of indulging the “cookbook” approach plus tables in common use by navigators. Would I, said Bartky, be interested in teaching these men navigation? I immediately pleaded lack of knowledge of the subject. No excuse, said Bartky; essentially only spherical trigonometry was involved;[2] and I could certainly learn the rest in a week or two; he even had a book that he suggested my using. I was still dubious and reminded him that as a fellow, I was prohibited from doing outside work. No problem said Bartky. Never shy away from something new, he advised, and cited his own acceptance of the job of teaching some industrialists the theory of sampling (for quality control), even though he would have to learn it from scratch himself in a week or so. [But I pointed out that as a fellow I wasn’t permitted to do outside work. This is repeated here.] No problem, he said; a trustee would write a letter waiving the restriction in my case. Upon that I had no choice [but] to agree. On my own I learned navigation, then taught over a five- or six-week period to the two yachtsmen at five dollars per weekly lesson each. This experience gave a tremendous boost to myself-confidence. Just after my final PhD examination Bartky and his wife congratulated me by taking me out to dinner at a local swanky restaurant. I kept contacts with him for many years; he later became a Dean of Physical Science at the U of C.

At this stage I had now reached, it was natural to look back and ask myself whether I had made a good choice to major in mathematics. I recall that at an early stage when I returned to new Trier for a visit Mrs. Walker, who had really led to me to the U of C via the German examination, expressed great disappointment that I had shifted from languages. “Mathematics is so cold,” she said. What she failed to realize was that mathematics is every bit as much a human activity as language, in that mathematical and ordinary language have much in common. Also she couldn’t know how useful to me would my language skills be later on [sic.]. Thus, instructors in the graduate courses always tried to select the best textbooks available whether in English or not. (In two of my courses, the texts were in German, and in one the book was in Italian. In anticipation of this latter I spent part of the previous summer learning Italian, a language which comes easily to one who knows French. Oddly, the Italian versions of mathematical terms are usually closer to the English counterparts then are the German versions.) Then, of course, a prerequisite for a PhD degree was the passing of examinations in two languages to test reading knowledge. The German and French exams were my choice and turned out to be no trouble.

I think that Mrs. Walker would be pleased to learn that I never lost my interest in languages. My interest in linguistics motivated a curious move I made during one of my graduate quarters. I learned that a graduate level course on modern German dialects was to be given by Leonard Bloomfield, a recognized scholar in this field. Since the University permitted auditing of any [offered?] courses by full-time students, I decided not to pass up this opportunity. I knew the Bonn dialect, learned in childhood from Gertrude, and I knew that there were many German dialects differing from one another to the extent that persons from towns as close as 50 miles might not be able to understand each other. (Educated Germans generally learned “stage German” in addition to the local dialects version.) I bought the textbook and attended all the sessions. My presence confused Mr. Bloomfield on the first day of class; he expected only graduate students in German, all of whom he knew. But he accepted my indication that I was only an auditor – probably the first such that he had ever had. The course was fascinating and I felt that in a way it grounded out my academic efforts.

As in earlier periods I developed very few personal friendships during the graduate years. Of my classmates, there were only two or three; with only one of these, Malcolm Smiley, did I maintain close contact for a period of years. He will appear here and there in the sequel. Aside from classmates, there were two friends deserving of mention. One, John Simpson, a prelaw student [who] was an undergraduate during my graduate years. We met on the L: I would leave the North Shore train downtown at the station adjoining the terminal of the Chicago Union and Elgin Railroad (similar to the North Shore line). He would arrive there from A[…?…], making a transfer to the L like mine, and at about the same time. (We both had 8 o’clock classes. I always had them during my whole six-year stint, necessitating my leaving Wilmette on the first morning train at 6.) We had common interests, including music: we were both analytic about most issues. So there was much to discuss, and we both looked forward, over a two-year period, to our frequent meetings, rides, and walks. I was sorry to have seen but little of him after I left the U of C.

A second contact stemmed from my paper-grading year: Harry Harman was a student in a class for which I was grading. Since he always did perfect work, I was determined to meet him. He turned out to be a very close friend up to and beyond my marriage. In fact, he was an usher at my wedding. We had little contact while I was studying at the U of C but later got together often for tennis, bridge, and talk. He was interested in mathematical psychology and statistics. After he and his family moved to California we maintained contact by mail; unfortunately both he and his wife died too soon a number of years ago.

In some ways it was fortunate that I began work at the U of C when I did rather than later, for President Hutchins viewed himself as an educational warden and in a few years after his arrival in 1929 effected major changes in the University’s programs. Students entering under the “New Plan” had little freedom to choose courses and had …?…: They took, during their first two years, four “survey” courses, in humanities, social science, biological sciences, and physical sciences. The idea was to give each student a “broad general familiarity” with major academic areas. A student’s success in these was judged by his performance on “comprehensive examinations,” which could be taken at any time, whether a student had actually attended the course or not. Admission to upper division work in a major field was contingent on the passing of all those four examinations. Hutchins (erroneously) believed that U of C students would be mature enough to govern their handling of this work – whether they wished to attend or not and whether they wanted to take a few other (regular…?…) courses too. (Even passing or finishing ordinary such course at the freshman/sophomore level depended only upon a departmental examination, not on an instructor’s guide.)

Having started my studies under the “old plan” I could continue that way, and, of course, I did. (To change over would undoubtedly have entailed extra time expenditures.) My disapproval of the “new plan” was solidified during my teaching period as a fellow. I learned afterward that very few students in my first class actually appeared for examination so as to “pass” the course; many of these could have passed, had my grade counted. And it is common knowledge that this condition was wide-spread.

The summer of 1935 was spent mostly in preparing a version of my doctoral thesis for publication. While not required, publication clearly would be in my interest. After it was completed I sent it to the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) the major research journal in the field.

There was a small additional job: the Wilmette State Bank, which had provided my parents with a mortgage back in 1923, decided to call all such loans and get out of the mortgage business. This meant that $5000 had to be raised somehow – apparent [im]possibility, since the Depression was now in full force. But there was a bit of luck: just formed was the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Wilmette, ready to enter the business. After a conference with its president, Carl Clifton, approval of my application followed – I guess my new appointment at the IAS was thought adequate to yield the modest monthly payments – now of interest and principal amortization.

All personal and family obligations out of the way I took the rest of the summer off, having earned, I thought, a vacation.



[1] At the U of C no one was ever addressed as “Professor,” or even (except for medical people) as “Doctor.”
[2] This subject was no longer a standard curriculum item. But I had learned it during my early astronomy courses.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

L. Roy Wilcox, PhD - Autobiography, Part 9-A

E5: 1929-1935

Part A – Undergraduate College Period

Since I had hoped eventually to study engineering, my rough plan was to start work at the University of Chicago, despite the unavailability of engineering programs there, and transfer after two years to another school. Even if I were to stay for four years, majoring in mathematics or physics I still would not have to give up on engineering. Quite properly I was not concerned about my inability to fix on a particular goal and I recognized the value in keeping options open at this stage.

There were impending obstacles in my path. First, under our normal family economic conditions, I could not plan to live on the University of Chicago campus and would have to face a commuter’s life – nearly 4 hours of a round-trip travel each school day, via North Shore Line, Elevated, and about 1 ½ miles of walking [sic.]. What made matters worse, however, was the threat of Depression which might lessen even our very modest economic capabilities. It wasn’t very long before my father’s company folded, and he was out of work. With increasing deafness, his chances of securing employment were exceptionally low, especially because of his lack of any real skills and his prejudice against hearing aids. 
Lee Alfred Wilcox (before hearing aid), ca 1929, Wilmette, Illinois

(Actually, during the entire decade that followed, he was able to secure only occasional odd jobs; otherwise he did volunteer work for the Wilmette Recreation Department, for the duration of the Depression.)

Luckily, my mother’s ingenuity came into play: she secured a permanent [?] job at the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle office.
Pauline Miller Wilcox, ca 1930

Her income was low, but the cost of living was correspondingly so, and there were benefits in that she was able to take home foodstuffs. (The Tabernacle operated the cafeteria and was able to secure food at very low prices.) My Grandmother Gertrude’s pension ($30 monthly)[1] allowed my scrimping transportation costs (about $.46 per day thanks to North Shore Line student tickets at $.18 between Wilmette and Chicago Loop) and lunch money ($.13-$.15 per day). There were of course household expenses for heat and light, taxes, mortgage payments (luckily interest only, since amortization of principal had not yet come into style) and some food (especially now that my mother had found a young German woman who would take care of Gertrude 24 hours a day for room and board only). 
Gertrude Mueller Miller, ca 1930, Wilmette, Illinois

Somehow my mother managed, I don’t know how, especially since there were essentially no savings, and maintenance of the family’s religious lifestyle meant more expenditures, especially for tithing and transportation to Chicago. It was clear, though, since my scholarship paid for tuition only ($300 per year), that I would somehow have to meet other expenses, including those for clothing, books, writing materials, and incidentals. I would have to find a way to earn money, mostly during summers, when I would not be attending classes.

In high school I had done some tutoring; as it worked out, I was always able to find some work along this line during the summers and a bit during the academic years. My rate: $2 per hour. My high school mathematics teacher, Mr. Snyder, cooperated by referring students to me I also tutored some in German and later in French. And during my sophomore and junior years, Mr. Snyder called on me from time to time to do substitute teaching at New Trier and in the September before my senior year. The German teacher at NT (not Mrs. Walker who had left) missed her steamer to return to the United States from Europe, and so I was called to substitute for her for a two or three week period. My pay for these jobs was $8 per day at first then later $6 per day (the Depression was deep by this time). Except for the big NT German job which was over before my classes started, my assignments there never occupied more than one or two days; making up for those missed today’s was usually easy.
[At this point in the manuscript, there is a reference to include “Lane story on quiz.” This item was not included and it is supposed that it would have been added later, had circumstances not prevented it.]

My academic program for the first year was as follows:
               Fall Quarter:
                              Mathematics (Analytic geom.)
                              German (last of 5 courses, my high school background corresponding to the first 4)
                              English composition

               Winter Quarter:
                              Mathematics (Calculus)
                              French 101
                              English (the novel)

               Spring Quarter:
                              Mathematics (Calculus)
                              French 103
                              Beginning astronomy
Selection of courses for the first quarter was pretty automatic: the mathematics was a good idea since I liked the subject, and might selected as a major; German was a natural to follow up on my high school work and to provide entry into the advanced courses should [it] be a possibility that I might major or minor in German. As to English, it turned out that, although I apparently could write well in German, my writing in English was not adjudged (by the English instructors who expected something other than good, precise, accurate expression) adequate to excuse me from the two composition courses required of all klutzes like me.

At the end of the fall quarter I had decided that I would major in mathematics, on the basis of inspiration I received from my excellent instructor (L. M. Graves, who figured in my life for many years).* Furthermore, I learned that the advanced German offerings contained no linguistics – only literature with occasional courses in other Germanic languages so that more literature could be studied. This had no appeal to me, and so I dropped any intention of further German study, much to the disappointment of the German faculty who expected that a German scholar would naturally want to specialize in that subject. (I did agree to be president of the German club through the years, however.) The choice of French was naturally mine: if French served as a kind of universal language for mathematics (along with English, of course), my selection of calculus in the winter and spring was consonant with my majoring in mathematics.

In the spring, astronomy was offered also by a fine instructor (with whom I had many interactions later); this subject would be, natural minor for me. Having received an A in French 101 I was permitted to skip 102 and receive credit for it if I got an A in 103. This did indeed happen.

Now for some bad news. English (my high school semi-nemesis) turned out the same way here: B’s in both fall and winter. I erred in choosing English in the winter but saw nothing better. I had developed some interest in novels – especially those of Dickens – [illegible] and thought I could stretch myself. We read a novel week and wrote a commentary on it each week; the choices were good ones, but again my style of writing apparently stood in my way. So the year ended with seven A’s and two B’s. The result: my scholarship would be renewed but only to the extent of two-thirds of what it was the first year. My consternation is easy to understand: I had no more funds to provide the missing $100. But I was able to borrow that amount from the University at 3% interest, to be paid back within a reasonable time. Since the sophomore year marked the start of my substitute teaching I was able to meet the obligation.

A comment on foreign language instruction at the U of C is in order here. It was (properly) done (in my judgment) by primary emphasis on grammar, vocabulary, reading, and to an extent, writing, with little stress on oral communication. (However, beyond the 101 courses, all were conducted in the language being taught.) In each course, even the 101, there was required reading of 100 pages per week with a book report (in English if desired) to be handed in. The first week, one could read a simple book; thereafter, one should read books written for adults. This method, in contrast to the “commercial method” enables one to draw on one’s extensive knowledge of one’s native language to help in learning the new one – rather than to learn it, necessarily inefficiently, by trial and error.

All courses, in fact, were quite demanding. But of the U of C regarded its instruction as so competitive that a five hour per week course could be taught in four hours weekly. So after my first quarter (when gym and an “orientation” thing that were held on Monday), my Mondays were free and were always spent at home. Mondays (nice at first, but then necessities) plus my riding time on the “L” and North Shore gave me the time needed to keep on top of everything.

Not only did I get credit for the one French course but I learned during the year that two of my high school courses were regarded as [?] college preparatory work; and so I got credit for college algebra and fourth-year high school German. As might be inferred from my account so far, the normal course load was three per quarter, so that in four years one would have taken 36 courses. Each was regarded as worth 3 1/3 semester hours, for a total of 120 hours for graduation.
Roy, U of C student


I had arrived at the end of one year with one extra quarter’s credit which meant that I might graduate one quarter early (these courses carried no grades). Why not, I thought, try for a second quarter’s credit and graduate still earlier. Now the U of C offered correspondence courses, those applicable to one’s program, taken in this way, would then carry regular credit and the grades carried. Why not, I thought, take one such course each summer – 1930, 1931, 1932? These would lead to a graduation two quarters early, in December 1932. Moreover, these correspondence courses would require only $25 each for tuition – some extra tutoring or whatever on my part. As it worked out, I took in 1930 one in differential equations – a good one for home study, since this subject was taught mechanically with many problems, little theory. And I did take one course in each of 1931, 1932, both being in educational methods. I thought that I might have to end up teaching in high school, in which case I would need education courses for certification. I later took practice teaching and a psychology course to round out these requirements. Of course I never needed to draw on those qualifications.

My “B” days weren’t quite over. I took the second required English comp. course as a sophomore and so ended up with eight A’s and one B. But now, having completed two years, I was to enter my period of concentration in the major, so that my scholarship decision would be in the hands of the mathematics department members, several of whom, fortunately, were impressed with my work and potential. I was thus awarded the junior year mathematics (full) scholarship. I felt pretty good about beating out the winner of the competitive freshman scholarship in mathematics at the time that I got the one in German.

The balance of my undergraduate work involved each quarter two mathematics courses and one course in my minor, astronomy (physics). By this time some of these courses were at the graduate level, since I had had a good head start and had taken most of the undergraduate courses in both subjects. (Astronomy at the U of C was split: experimental astronomy was taught at the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin; and the theoretical part (actually applied mechanics) was taught at the Chicago campus. The three faculty members involved being housed in the mathematics department. In my junior year I took the sequence of three mechanics courses given by astronomer William MacMillan (not my favorite). His grading system was to give everyone a B, except for A’s for those who spoke out a lot (making [?] or nonsense). In the first quarter the stupidest student got the only A. (It wasn’t Wilcox, who quietly did all the work correctly.) Later I learned that MacMillan received a terrible bawling out for giving a B to the one junior math scholar. Thereafter I scored A’s for Macmillan, as I did in the mathematics courses. I was awarded the senior math scholarship for the coming year.

By fall I had under my belt 33 of the 36 courses required for graduation. During the fall quarter I took a couple of math courses and a physics course (theory of heat), which I thought would be a great experience, since the instructor was Arthur Compton, Nobel Prize winner for discovery of cosmic rays. But he was an experimental, not theoretical physicist, and the course was a washout.

Apparently my grades there the junior year were adequate to qualify me for election to Phi Beta Kappa.

At the fall 1932 induction ceremony I got my first impression of the speaker Mortimer Adler. He said in his speech that science had reached its intellectual peak with the early Greeks and had been in decline ever since. He was so effective as a speaker that he made this sound plausible. But on my way home afterwards I gave the matter some thought and realized that all of what he had said was garbage in view of the tremendous explosion in science and mathematics beginning with the middle ages and still in high gear. My impression of Adler as a nut has stuck with me to this date. His “Great Books” program predicated on his ridiculous theme is garbage. What I’ve heard him say over the years hasn’t caused me to alter my opinion. Pres. Robert Hutchins, who started his presidency at the U of C when I entered, did a fair amount of good for the University, but he also made some serious mistakes, one of which was to appoint Adler. (He first tried to put him in the Law School, whereupon the Law faculty resigned as a body; so Adler ended up as a professor of Philosophy, perhaps because that department’s members weren’t as perceptive as the Law’s ones).

I graduated on schedule, in December 1932 (grade-point average was a 3.8). 

Having already taken some graduate work I decided to continue towards the Master’s degree in mathematics. On the basis of this and a special oral examination I received the S. B. With honors – no “. . . Cum laude” at the U of C. It is an odd fact that there only [are] three Bachelor’s degrees available: Bachelor of Science (S. B.), Bachelor of Philosophy (Ph. B.), and Bachelor of Arts (A. B.). The first was given only to science majors, the last only to (non-science) students who included a certain amount of Greek in their programs, the Ph. B. to all others. (The U of C was a stickler for European form.)

During my undergraduate years, my social activities (except for Sunday family/religious stuff) were pretty meager. While I had been rushed by two fraternities I couldn’t afford to join, of course. I participated in no extracurricular activities. (One exception: in 1929 before Pres. Hutchins abdicated football, I attended one game – at Urbana, with expenses covered by one of the frats. I stayed with my high school friend Duncan-Clark who was attending the U of I.) The few dates I had were “campus dates.” A man could visit a girl at her dormitory, but they had to stay in plain view in the first floor parlor. How times have changed!

My friends were even fewer here than at New Trier. Only two stand out: Ed Cooper[?], who was severely handicapped by a bone disorder [and] had to use crutches and needed help to get up even one step. I made a point of helping him whenever I could and in return he would drive me to the Belmont “L” stop in his specially outfitted car. This friendship lasted well beyond my undergraduate period.

A second friend was Ned Hohman, a pre-dental student. We met in the gym during my second quarter at the U of C. My earlier interest in gymnastics led me to use the gym voluntarily after my first (required) course. Ned and I had the same interests – work on the mats, parallel bars, and horse; our skills developed at about the same pace. On occasion I would be invited to his home on the far South Side and he visited my home on a few occasions. His father was a practicing dentist who gave me dental care and his two older brothers were already MDs. Ned ultimately became my dentist and his brother Ray my doctor; after my marriage, both briefly served our family.

My gymnastics had to be given up as a result of a shoulder injury which occurred during my junior year. One of my old Winnetka friends was attending the U of C, commuting as I did except that he had a car. On one occasion he took me home, but on the way he had car trouble and stopped at a service station. While waiting there I strolled around the station, stupidly overlooking that it was pitch dark. Suddenly I stepped into a greased pit. My left arm went out automatically and was caught on the concave side of the pit. My shoulder slipped out of its socket and I instantly grabbed the arm to push it back. Since I couldn’t afford medical care or the time out to get patched up (surgery being necessary to rejoin a “ruptured ligament,” as I learned much later), I decided to try to live with the situation. The shoulder misbehaved a few times thereafter until I learned how to favor it. In due time, I had no more trouble since regeneration evidently took place. Only very recently have I noticed a slight weakness in the shoulder, possibly due to that early mishap.

During my undergraduate period when I took non-mathematical courses I frequently had to write papers. My high school graduation present had been a (new) portable (mechanical) Underwood typewriter (which I still have – in excellent working order). That machine served me very well indeed. To do reference work in preparation for these papers, which were usually on scientific subjects by my choice, I often stopped downtown on the way home to use the Crerar Library. (At the U of C libraries the best books were often out; the Crerar books had to be used on the premises.) One of my long papers was on hypnosis in which I had become interested through the one psychology course I took. I recall reading books on the subject until I reached the point where any additional book provided nothing that I did not know already. (Crerar later moved to IIT and then to the U of C.)

As I look back over this. I marvel at my good fortune: never did I miss a day at school for health reasons – only for NT substituting; I was able to earn enough to handle all my expenses except for those covered by family help. The best clothing buy that I got occurred early: a big “alpaca pile” overcoat (artificial fur) with a stout lining and a large collar to raise for ear and face protection. The cost: $25. It made bearable my long walks on and to and from the campus with the cold and windy weather. It served me well, later during subzero spells in Wisconsin and Chicago. It’s still about as good as new – even the lining.

In general, I would rate the undergraduate education I received at the University of Chicago as excellent. I had sole freedom in choosing the courses I would take; graduation requirements were far from oppressive. There were no “general education” requirements such as are common today! The student was credited with good judgment; only once (early in the game) did the Dean say, “I’ll approve your program because I am required to, but I do so against my better judgment.” (He thought I should take history or some such “non-scientific – not yet in effect” course.) William Hutchins’s new program [?], on which I comment in section B, was based upon an entirely different educational philosophy!

But I cannot leave this part without a few remarks about the courses in Education. These were an eye-opener as to coming trends. The courses were generally known, even then, to be “snap courses,” designed to lead into elementary and secondary teaching the [to] weakest students. Of course there was a pretense to the contrary. I took education 101 as a regular (not correspondence) course. The first day the instructor passed out a bibliography listing some 30 books, all of which were “required reading.” I knew this was a fakery, also, that I couldn’t afford to buy the books or hope to find them in the library so I ignored the list completely, took copious notes on the trivia (or falsehoods) peddled in the lectures, and received an A grade (by that time I had learned how to get high grades out of weak instructors cold).

In “special methods – mathematics,” taken by correspondence, I learned how much meat has been removed from high school subjects. For example, it was recommended that, instead of providing that the volume of a cone is one third that of a corresponding cylinder, as we did in solid geometry at New Trier, one make a cone out of paper, fill it with sand, then pour the sand into an appropriate cylinder (same base, same height), and “find out” that it takes three conefuls to fill the cylinder. I couldn’t believe ­this when I read it.

About this time I learned with sadness that even New Trier was being negatively affected. A new superintendent that came in, Mr. Snyder (my mathematics mentor) told me, that (a) I would no longer be regarded as qualified to do substitute teaching and (b) his job of manning the department and indeed the jobs of the teachers had degenerated into the branding of the ad nauseum. I learned that my carefully adhered to education evidently to be already out of date – insufficient for certification. It was clear that there was a gigantic conspiracy effort on the part of such outfits as The Columbia Teachers College to water down primary and secondary education generally, and to emasculate teacher “training” and in order to provide backup, to turn out administrators and teachers of character in comparable mold[?] to run schools, pressure [the] legislations to keep teacher certification at a low level, and to ensure giving this damned movement the strength to persist long into the future.

The results of all this are clear as a bell today now that we are in the third and fourth generation of stagnation. The damage cannot be overcome without an attack on its root causes. As I write, much consternation exists in the public and political arenas about what has happened, and futile movements to “correct” the situation are underway with money regarded as somehow central. I am sure that no improvement will happen in my time, if ever.



[1] Her husband had a pension from Civil War army service available to his widow.
* Notes on the manuscript call for a story of some sort to be inserted here, but it does not appear to have been included anywhere.