Women Mathematicians and NMAH CollectionsSister Helen Sullivan: A College Teacher and More
|Sister Helen Sullivan, August 1981. Gift of Helen Sullivan (AHB2012q05998)|
Sister M. Helen Sullivan (1907-1998) represents the large number of American women with PhD’s in mathematics whose names and accomplishments are not well known within much of the mathematics community. Sullivan, like many other mathematicians, was a college teacher whose only mathematical research publication was her dissertation but who wrote about, among other subjects, the teaching of mathematics. She interacted with her own students as well as other students and mathematicians through her involvement in Kappa Mu Epsilon, a mathematical honor society, and on committees and panels of professional organizations that related to teaching.
Sullivan also represents the group of Catholic nuns who earned PhD’s in mathematics from Catholic University. During the 1930s, Catholic awarded more PhD’s in mathematics to American women, twelve (eleven of them nuns), than any other school except the University of Chicago, which awarded twenty-four. Catholic nuns were well represented at the August 1981 honoring women who received PhD’s in mathematics before World War II. Of the fifteen women who attended three were women religious and all had received PhD’s from Catholic: Sister Leonarda Burke in 1931, Sullivan in 1934, and Sister Elizabeth Frisch in 1940. All three shared the same dissertation advisor, Aubrey E. Landry. Landry advised twenty-eight doctoral students, eighteen of whom were women. Landry’s only woman student who was not a nun was Euphemia Lofton Haynes who, in 1943, became the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in mathematics.
|Three women religious with PhD’s in mathematics, August 31, 1981. Left: Sisters Helen Sullivan and Leonarda Burke. Right: Sister Elizabeth Frisch with Uta C. Merzbach, then Curator of Mathematics, NMAH. (SI Neg #81-11283-3 & 81-11284-28)
Sullivan donated her publications and items related to Kappa Mu Epsilon to the museum. Most of her publications concern undergraduate research, teaching, and philosophy.
"Women Mathematicians and NMAH Collections - Sister Helen Sullivan: A College Teacher and More" showing 1 items.
- In April 1981 in Springfield, Missouri, Kappa Mu Epsilon celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. At this celebration KME, a mathematics honor society with chapters at institutions that emphasize undergraduate mathematics programs, named fifty members as Distinguished Members. Sister Helen Sullivan was one of those so honored.
- In about 1936 Sister Helen Sullivan organized Euclid’s Circle, a mathematics club at Mount St. Scholastica College. In 1940 she founded the Kansas Gamma Chapter of Kappa Mu Epsilon there. Sullivan often served as the faculty sponsor of her local chapter of KME, and in 1967 the alumnae of that chapter established the Sister Helen Sullivan scholarship in her honor. On the national level Sullivan served as KME’s historian in the years 1943–47, and as an assistant editor of its journal, The Pentagon, during those years and again from 1961–70.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- Kappa Mu Epsilon
- ID Number
- nonaccession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center