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Who Was Miss Mullikin? Introduction

Who Was Miss Mullikin?

Thomas L. Bartlow and David E. Zitarelli

The following article, which appeared in the American Mathematical Monthly, 116, no. 2 (February 2009): 99-114, is available as a PDF as well.

Table of Contents
3Mathematical Legacy
4Teaching Career
5Life and Family
7Archival Sources


In 1946 R.L. Moore, responding to a prospective student's request for information about graduate study, closed his letter with a personal note: "Please remember me to Miss Mullikin" [18, 295]. Who was Miss Mullikin? And why did someone of Moore's stature wish to convey his best wishes to her?

Anna Margaret Mullikin (1893-1975) was Moore's third Ph.D. student, one of the first mathematicians in the world to write about connected sets, an inspiring high school mathematics teacher, a textbook author, a philanthropist, and a humanitarian. She is virtually unknown today, but for several reasons we believe she deserves greater recognition.

For one, she was the first student to write a dissertation on topology under Moore, one of the towering figures of American mathematics who is well known for the teaching method he developed and for the impressive progeny of 50 Ph.D. students he produced by that method.

Second, her published work, based on the dissertation, inspired a decade of intense investigations leading to applications and generalizations by two of the leading schools of topology at the time, one in Poland and the other in America. Indeed, it served as a catalyst for subsequent studies for another 50 years.

Third, she devoted all her energy to high-school instruction in mathematics, inspiring students to pursue higher education through the doctorate and, in at least one case, to pursue a lifetime of research accomplishments.

In spite of this impressive record, Mullikin is cited in very few works on women mathematicians. She is mentioned neither in older references like [13] and [21] nor in recent ones like [9] and [25], even though her contributions were noted in two papers on the Moore school, [28] and [58].

We do not know why such an omission has occurred, but we hope the present work, in which Mullikin is cast as the central figure and not in a supporting role, reverses this regrettable situation. It has also come to our attention that a very recent book on female American mathematicians includes Mullikin and her achievements [12].

This paper begins with an account of Mullikin's only published mathematical research, her doctoral dissertation, which appeared in 1922. We detail those parts of the paper which involve fundamental concepts in �2 and are appropriate for present-day students who are extending their conceptual understanding from � to �n.

Next, we trace the catalytic effect her results had on the fledgling field of point-set topology. Called "the theorems of Miss Mullikin," they played an important role in one of the first truly international movements in mathematics in the United States.

This analysis of Mullikin's research is followed by an account of her professional career as a high school teacher, citing particular educational influences on her students. The paper concludes with information about Mullikin's life and family.

Continue to the next chapter: 2. DISSERTATION.