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Saunders Mac Lane, 1951-1952 MAA President

Born: August 4, 1909, Norwich, Connecticut
Died: April 14, 2005, San Francisco, California

Saunders Mac Lane was a University of Chicago mathematics professor known for his pioneering work in category theory and leadership in the mathematics community.

Presidency: 1951-1952

R.P. Boas wrote in Mac Lane's Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award citation,

His presidency made an enduring impression on those who were active in the Association at that time. He saw the office less as an honor than as an opportunity, attacked the problems of collegiate mathematics with characteristic imagination and energy, and set the Association on the active course that it has followed ever since.

Here are some of the activities that began under Mac Lane's presidency: the first steps were taken toward forming CUPM, and in particular toward improving the training of school teachers in mathematics; the Hedrick Lectures were invented; what is now the Employment Register was begun (by the MAA alone); the MAA and AMS began to cooperate in producing a Combined Membership List.

Education and Career

1930 Yale University, Ph.B.
1931 University of Chicago, M.A.
1934 University of Göttingen, Ph.D., advised by Hermann Weyl

Mac Lane taught at Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Chicago before returning to Harvard in 1938 as an assistant professor. He then became a professor at the University of Chicago (1947-82; chair, 1952-58). After he retired, he advised two graduate students (1995 and 1997).

The Fiftieth Anniversary Issue of the American Mathematical Monthly included Saunders' remarks on "The Future Role of the Federal Government in Mathematics."

Mac Lane was a governor of the MAA in 1943-45 and vice president in 1948-49. He was also president of the AMS in 1973-74, vice president of the National Academy of Sciences, vice president of the American Philosophical Society, and a board member of the National Science Foundation. He was honored with the MAA Chauvenet Prize (1941), an AMS Colloquium Lecture (1963), the MAA Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award (1975) the AMS Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement (1986), and the National Medal of Science in 1989.

External Resources

MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive Biography

AMS Presidents Timeline biography

MAA FOCUS obituary

University of Chicago obituary

New York Times obituary

Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award citation by R.P. Boas

Saunders Mac Lane: A Mathematical Autobiography

"A Conversation with Saunders Mac Lane" by G.L. Alexanderson

The Saunders Mac Lane Papers at the Archives of American Mathematics

Records of editors, presidents, and secretaries from MAA headquarters, Saunders Mac Lane, 1947-1953 at the Archives of American Mathematics

Selected Papers of Saunders Mac Lane

The Mathematics Genealogy Project