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Archives Spotlight: The William G. Chinn Papers

The William G. Chinn Papers

By Beth Nettels

The following article, featured as part of the Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight, was published in the June/July 2010 issue of MAA FOCUS. The full issue is available here (pdf).

William G. Chinn

William G. Chinn, undated. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The William G. Chinn Papers at the Archives of American Mathematics.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) has recently processed and made available the papers of William G. Chinn, an educator, scholar, author, and former second vice president of the MAA (1981-82). The papers consist of Chinn's correspondence, notes, publications, and manuscripts, as well as memoranda and reports of several mathematical organizations, including the MAA and the School Mathematics Study Group. Chinn's family donated his papers to the AAM in 2009.

Chinn (1919-2004) was born and raised in San Francisco, California. He received his bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1941 from the University of California, Berkeley. During World War II, he trained under General George S. Patton in North Africa, was an aide to General Eugene Lowry Eubank, and then served as a meteorologist in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

After World War II, Chinn resumed his studies, receiving his teaching credential from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1947. He worked as a teacher for the San Francisco public school system at both the junior and senior high levels from 1947 to 1965.

During this time, he received his M.A. in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, and served as a curriculum assistant for the San Francisco Unified Schools (1960-63), a district consultant for the Monterey Unified School District (1960-61), committee chairman of the California Mathematics Council (1956-60), and a special consultant to the California Office of Education (1965).

In 1966, Chinn took a post as an instructor of mathematics at the City College of San Francisco, where he worked until his retirement in 1984. He was dedicated to improving mathematics education in two-year colleges. He served on the editorial board of the Two-Year College Mathematics Journal and from 1971 to 1974 was chairman of the MAA's Committee on Two-Year Colleges.

Chinn's commitment to the betterment of mathematics education extended beyond the realm of the two-year college, however, leading to his involvement with various organizations and councils, including the School Mathematics Study Group (1965-77), the U.S. Commission on Mathematics Instruction (1973-77), and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Commission on Mathematics in the Inner City (1969-72).

In addition to his love of mathematics, Chinn was an avid collector of Asian art and an ardent supporter of the Chinese Historical Society of America.

Chinn's versatility as an author is reflected in his numerous publications. He was a contributing editor for Science World magazine for two years, and his "3.1416 and All That" columns were collected and published by Simon and Schuster in 1969. Chinn also coauthored several textbooks, including Introductory Statistics and Probability: A Basis for Decision Making with David Blakeslee and, for the New Mathematical Library series, First Concepts of Topology: The Geometry of Mappings of Segments, Curves, Circles, and Disks with Norman Steenrod.

Chinn family

"The Dawn of Civilization," Chinn family, ca. 1929. William Chinn is second from right, back row. (Click to enlarge.)
(Property of the William G. Chinn family.)

The highlight of the Chinn papers is the Organizations series, which consists largely of correspondence concerning Chinn's involvement with various mathematical organizations, especially the MAA Committee on Two-Year Colleges and the School Mathematics Study Group. The correspondence documents in detail the contentious attempts at merging the Two-Year College Mathematics Journal with the journal of the Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges, in which Chinn played an active part. The collection also contains numerous galleys and manuscripts that illuminate Chinn's activities as an author of mathematics textbooks and journals.

Beth Nettels was an intern at the Archives of American Mathematics.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) is a unit of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Individuals interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the AAM should contact Carol Mead, Archivist:, (512) 495-4539.

Revised on July 12, 2010.