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Deposit # 110
Shirley B. Gray
Memorabilia of Olga Taussky-Todd
in Mathematics in the 20th Century
Cross of Honor
Austrian-American mathematician Olga Taussky-Todd is best known for
in three areas.
is not a biography. We focus on a few of the unusual
aspects of a truly lovely life.
Being a Pioneer for Women in Mathematics
recent release of a video on Richard
Courant and the Courant Institute at N. Y. U. reminds us of the very
rich scholarly atmosphere imported to the United States from Europe in
the 1930s and 40s. Among those making this journey was Olga
Taussky-Todd, a fellow student with Gödel in Vienna.
Being born in Olmütz, Austro-Hungry and
ending in Pasadena, California,
most of the 20th century
She was possibly the first woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics at
the University of Vienna (1930).
Her thesis on number theory was published in "Crelle's Journal" in 1932. To earn money she often
|"I had a very
tough time as a thesis student. I had no colleagues whatsoever and
hardly saw my teacher, who for quite a while did not direct me towards
"professional" she had the luck to meet Richard Courant at a
meeting of the German Mathematical Society. In 1931 she was appointed by him to edit the
volume of Hilbert's complete works on number theory. Moving to
Göttingen she also assisted Emmy Noether. Courant advised
her to leave Germany. Within the years of 1931-1935 she tutored
in Vienna, lived in Göttingen, crossed the Atlantic to
Bryn Mawr College, returned to Cambridge, England and then moved on to
London. In London she soon met another mathematician and
future husband, John (Jack) Todd, an Irishman full of
the blarney. Be reminded this was before travel by
Those of us living
in the Caltech community will always remember Jack and Olga with a
tremendous amount of love. They lived near campus and usually
walked to work. They rarely walked alone or side by side.
Jack was always in front, even on wide walkways or at the swimming
pool. Olga followed perhaps 5 feet behind. This resulted in
two greetings to those they passed on the street, first from Jack who
always was full of charm and then from Olga, often wearing a floppy hat
but always having a smile and dancing eyes. Together they rarely
missed a mathematics department colloquium or Caltech party. In a
way they were
almost icons for a pair of academics in the 1950s, very comfortable
with themselves and their roles in life.
life and my career would have been so different if my Irishman had not
In addition to both Todd's papers and oral histories, the Caltech
Archives has several interesting items that deserve to be enjoyed by a
wider audience of mathematicians.
|Lecturing at Caltech in 1961.
|Her Ph. D. diploma from the University of
|When the recently graduated Taussky
went to work with Courant in Göttingen in 1931, he bought her a
iron. According to Jack, Courant told Olga she "had to take
of her appearance."
appears never to have been used.
This portrait of Olga Taussky-Todd was painted by Clara P. Ewald in
Belfast, November, 1939.
She was 33 years old.
||The Austrian Cross
Honor in Science and Arts, First Class
|Clues to Olga's
personality are found in how she described her mother and father.
|"My father was a
very interesting man, very active, very creative. ... My mother
was a country girl ...a rather quiet lady ... educated to be a
Please grant the freedom for us to paraphrase:
"Jack Todd was a very interesting man, very active, very
creative. Olga Taussky-Toddd was a simple European girl
...a rather quiet
lady ...educated to be a mathematician.
|Don Albers, former Director of Publications for the
MAA, was a good friend of Jack and Olga. See
D. Albers, John
Todd-Numerical Mathematics Pioneer, The
College Mathematics Journal, Vol. 38 (1), January, 2007, 2-
23. Albers chronicles their lives over many years.
| < http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Taussky-Todd.html >
National Curve Bank and mathematicians everywhere thank Shelley Erwin
and Loma Karklins of the Caltech Archives for opening this collection
our viewers. It is difficult to grasp the subtleties of Olga's life
without some feel for her personality.