Departmental History

Early History

On April 4, 1995, Department Chair John Ewing presided over the dedication of Rawles Hall, the new home of the Department of Mathematics. He, and the department's fiscal officer, Donna Fink, had spent considerable time in the Indiana University Archives the results of which was a wonderfully informative dedication speech. What follows is built on that foundation, including links to images in the Indiana University Archives. The image above is from the Archives and shows the original campus circa 1850. 

The Department of Mathematics at Indiana University is almost as old as the university itself. The state legislature established the Indiana Seminary in 1820. The first class was taught, most likely, in 1825. The first professor was Baynard Rush Hall, and the first courses were suppose to be in Latin, Greek, and mathematics. Since Hall was not comfortable teaching mathematics, the first courses taught were only Latin and Greek.  In 1827, a second professor arrived, John Hopkins Harney, the first professor of mathematics. However, it wasn't until about 1890 when President David Starr Jordan introduced specialty degrees, the precurser to majors as we now know them, that a real Department of Mathematics formed. 

The first African-American to get a degree at Indiana University, Marcellus Neal, was a mathematics major, receiving his A.B. in 1895. The first PhD in Mathematics at Indiana University was awarded to a woman, Cora B. Hennel, in 1912. The first African-American to recieve a PhD in mathematics, Elbert Cox, was an undergraduate mathematics and physics major at Indiana University, graduating in 1917. There are pictures of him in the Physics Club and in the Euclidean Circle, the Mathematics Club that Cora B. Hennel founded. The department's lounge in Rawles Hall where the Math Club currently meets is named after Cora Hennel. A short biography of Elbert Cox appears at the Mathematical Association of America website, and a longer article available to those with JSTOR access appears there. 

Another important early figure in the Department of Mathematics was David Rothrock who was an excellent teacher and also served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and as Director of Admissions. Students loved Professor Rothrock and honored him with cartoons in the Arbutus. Cora B. Hennel also stayed on in the department as Assistant then Associate then Full Professor of Mathematics. She was a poet, administrator, and gifted public speaker. I conclude, as John Ewing did, with the poem she published in the Columbia Anthology of Verse: 

A Song to the New Year

Thrice Welcome, New Year!
Well, come, New Year. The old has run its course
And now, full spent, it languishes and dies,
Or goes - we know not which - to take its place
Forever youthful in the lap of Time.

Welcome, New Year. We need thy joyous touch,
Thy forward look, thy radiant hopefulness.
Fear has no place in thy companionship,
Nor vain regret, nor idol loitering.

Well, come, New Year. The hour of midnight strikes.
Come enter in, and in thy coming bring
New insight to us and new kindliness,
New hope that is not vain, new strength, new peace.

Thrice Welcome, New Year!