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William DeWeese Cairns, 1943-1944 MAA President

Born: November 2, 1871, Troy, Ohio
Died: July 15, 1955, Pasadena, California

William DeWeese Cairs was a mathematics professor at Oberlin College. He was secretary-treasurer of the MAA for its first 27 years.

Presidency: 1943-1944

In 1943, the MAA and the American Mathematical Society established a bureau to provide information on available college mathematics teachers in an effort to alleviate "The Problem of Securing Teachers of Collegiate Mathematics for Wartime Needs."

At the annual business meeting in November 1944, Cairns was made honorary president for life.

Education and Career

1892 Ohio Wesleyan University, A.B.
1897 Harvard University, A.B.
1898 Harvard University, A.M.
1907 University of Göttingen, Ph.D., advised by David Hilbert

In 1899, Cairns began teaching at Oberlin College. He earned his Ph.D. on a two-year leave. He headed the Oberlin mathematics department from 1920 to 1935, when he retired.

Cairns was secretary-treasurer of the MAA from its founding meeting in December 1915 through 1942. When Cairns retired as secretary-treasurer, the first president of the MAA, E.R. Hedrick, wrote,

In the extent and value of [Cairns'] services to the Association, he is rivalled only by Herbert Ellsworth Slaught (1861-1937), also an enthusiastic and constant worker for the interests of the Association from the time of its founding. To these two men far more than to any others the Association owes its success and its present strong position.

Cairns published extensively in the Monthly and authored additional papers in other journals. He was also a member of the American Mathematical Society and represented the MAA on the council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

External Resources

American Mathematical Monthly obituary by W.B. Carver

"Our Retiring Secretary-Treasurer" by E.R. Hedrick

Records of editors, presidents, and secretaries from MAA headquarters, William Deweese Cairns, includes obituary, 1939-1955 at the Archives of American Mathematics

The Mathematics Genealogy Project