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Nancy Cole


Nancy Cole was born on October 15, 1902 in Boston. After her graduation from Radcliffe College in 1924, she worked for the Oxford School in Hartford, CT from 1924 to 1926 and then was an instructor for a year at Vassar. In 1928 she enrolled at Radcliffe College and earned her master's degree in 1929. After teaching for a year at Wells College, she returned to Radcliffe and earned her Ph.D. in 1934 -- today it would be a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Her dissertation director was Marston Morse, then a professor at Harvard and subsequently a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. Morse served as President of the American Mathematical Society in 1941 and 1942. His book "The Calculus of Variations in the Large" (AMS Colloquium Volume 18, published in 1934) lays the foundation for the subject we today call Morse Theory, and in the foreword Morse wrote: "Dr. Nancy Cole has greatly assisted both in the reading and the preparation of the manuscript." I had lunch with Morse at the Institute cafeteria in the spring of 1976, and he remembered fondly the young Nancy Cole.

She traveled to Europe in 1929 and to the International Congress of Mathematicians in Oslo, Norway in 1936 and she published "The index theorem for a calculus of variations problem in which the integrand is discontinuous," American Journal of Mathematics 62 (1940), pp. 249-276. She taught at Sweet Briar College in Virginia for ten years, serving twice as acting head of the department, and then taught at Kenyon College and Connecticut College. Nancy joined the SU faculty in 1947 and was an associate professor at SU from 1952 until her retirement in 1971. She served as secretary of the Syracuse chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, was a member of the Curriculum Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences, was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a member of AMS, MAA, AAUP, Sigma Xi, Phi Beta Kappa, and Pi Mu Epsilon. She was also listed in American Men and Women of Science. When Dave Williams died suddenly in the spring of 1980, she took over one of his courses. She died July 7, 1991 at age 88 at her Plymouth, MA home.

I last saw Nancy at the International Congress of Mathematicians at Stanford in 1986. Deborah Haimo's husband Franklin had died suddenly a few years earlier, and Nancy was one of a group of women who had visited China with Debbie and tried to help her cope with the loss. She was a good and thoughtful colleague and a very fine teacher.

Sources: Her biography from the 1954-55 Who's Who among SU women; Obituaries from the Post-Standard and Herald-Journal of July 15, 1991; 13th edition of American Men and Women of Science; and some personal recollections.

Phil Church 5/24/02