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Origins of Pi Mu Epsilon

The Founding of Pi Mu Epsilon at Syracuse University in 1913–14 (Jack Graver, 2014) gives a detailed account of the early history of the mathematical honor society. The paper was written on the occasion of the ΠΜΕ centennial, and formed the basis of Professor Graver's presentation at MAA MathFest 2014.

The following historical overview was written by Philip T. Church in 2002.

Pi Mu Epsilon was founded at SU by Professor Edward Drake Roe, Jr., Mathematics Department chair in 1914, and was incorporated at Albany, NY that May. It was the outgrowth of a mathematics club on the Hill, and Roe served as its national president (director) for 15 years until his sudden death in December 1929. The local chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon was thus the organization's first chapter, alpha of New York.

Professor Roe was the John Raymond French Professor of Mathematics at Syracuse from 1901 until his death, and was also appointed director of Holden Observatory. He erected on his own property one of the best-equipped private observatories in the country, and published 31 papers in astronomy. He also published 26 items in mathematics including 8 in the Monthly, 2 in the Annals, 2 in the Transactions, 1 in the American Journal and several textbooks. Some years after the death of his first wife he married Josephine Robinson, who taught at Berea College in Kentucky. She earned her doctorate in mathematics at SU, and was one of the first women Ph.Ds in the U.S.

The Pi Mu Epsilon Journal was first published in November 1949, and its Volume 1 Number 1 contains: a photograph and on pp. 1–7 a biography of Professor Roe by May Naramore Harwood, a charter member of Pi Mu Epsilon and SU faculty member; on pp. 8–12 a history "The earliest days of Pi Mu Epsilon" by Floyd Fiske Decker, also a charter member, vice-director 1914–1922 and SU faculty member; and on pp. 13–14 Greetings from the Director-General for 1949–50 Professor C. C. MacDuffe of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He noted that Professor Ruth Stokes of SU had consented to serve as editor of the new journal (she served 1949–1955). The next issue, Volume 1 Number 2 has a one-page obituary of Floyd Fiske Decker, by Louis Lindsey. In May 1964 at the 50th reunion there were almost 100 chapters & 45,000 members.

Raymond L. Wilder, University of Michigan Research Professor of Mathematics, delivered the major address at the fiftieth anniversary banquet of the Pi Mu Epsilon chapter at SU on May 5, 1964. Professor Wilder, who was AMS president in 1955 and 1956, discussed "What is set theory?" In Volume 3 pp. 511–515 of the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal, J. S. Frame of Michigan State University, Director General, has a report "Fifty years in the Pi Mu Epsilon Fraternity."

The current editor of Pi Mu Epsilon Journal is Professor Brigitte Servatius, Mathematical Sciences, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA 01609-2280, bservat@wpi.edu. She had received her Ph.D. at SU in 1987 under Professor Jack Graver, and was one of the 4 Councilors beginning with the fall 1993 issue (Volume 9 Number 9) through spring 1999 (Volume 10 Number 10). Beginning with Volume 11 Number 1 in fall 1999 she became the editor of the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal, which describes itself as the official publication of the National Honorary Mathematics Society. Brigitte put me in touch with the Secretary-Treasurer, Robert M. Woodside, who wrote that the 301st chapter was installed in May 2002 and that in the 15 years he has been in office they have initiated close to 2,000 members a year.

Visit the current webpage of Pi Mu Epsilon New York Alpha Chapter. The national website for Pi Mu Epsilon is www.pme-math.org