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Mabel Sykes: A Life Untold and an Architectural Geometry Book Rediscovered – Scholarship and Service

Maureen T. Carroll (University of Scranton) and Elyn Rykken (Muhlenberg College)

In addition to her role as a teacher, Mabel Sykes was also a scholar. She authored over half a dozen mathematics books and over a dozen articles between 1903 and 1935. Her articles are primarily pedagogical in nature, and the majority of the longer works are co-authored textbooks in high school geometry and algebra. Her passion for teaching mathematics is evident through these written works. She also voiced opinions on the state of mathematics education and made suggestions for improving the teaching of geometry and algebra, in particular, or the high school curriculum, in general, based on her many years of experience in the classroom.

Mabel Sykes in 1923.

Figure 3: Mabel Sykes in 1923.

Sykes was an active member in the Chicago and Cook County mathematics teachers’ associations early in her career. Reports from regional meetings show that she was a vocal participant and chaired several committees [14]. She was also an active member in the Central Association of Science and Mathematics Teachers, a regional professional society that pre-dated the formation in 1920 of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). She served as Secretary to the Central Association from 1905 to 1910, continuing sporadically until 1919. She served as a delegate to the national committee in 1920 and was elected Vice President of the NCTM in 1923 [11, 16, 56, 57, 59, 62, 63]. Her national committee work is especially noteworthy. As part of the larger push for mathematics education reform at the start of the twentieth century, the American Federation of Teachers of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the National Education Association jointly commissioned a group of educators to review the high school geometry curriculum in 1908. The National Committee of Fifteen on the Geometry Syllabus consisted of seven university professors and eight high school instructors hailing from schools across the United States, with the University of Chicago’s H. E. Slaught serving as the chair. Whether it was through her publications, graduate studies at the University of Chicago, or presentations at local conferences, Sykes clearly made an impression on the organizers because she was the only woman chosen to serve on this committee [16]. (On a related note, Sykes credited Slaught for his help with her 1912 Source Book.) After four years of work, the committee proposed a new geometry syllabus that was adopted by the NEA in 1912 [7]. After her service on this committee, she chaired the regional committee for the establishment of the geometry syllabus for the Chicago public school system [60].

Maureen T. Carroll (University of Scranton) and Elyn Rykken (Muhlenberg College), "Mabel Sykes: A Life Untold and an Architectural Geometry Book Rediscovered – Scholarship and Service," Convergence (February 2020)