Geiringer v. Mises (Pollaczek), Hilda

*September 28, 1893 (Vienna, Austria)
†March 22, 1973 (Santa Barbara, California, USA)

In 1917, Hilda Geiringer received her Ph.D. from the University of Vienna under the guidance of Wilhelm Wirtinger with a thesis entitled "Trigonometrische Doppelreihen" about Fourier series in two variables. She spent the following two years as Leon Lichtenstein's assistant editing the Jahrbuch über die Fortschritte der Mathematik. In 1921, Geiringer moved to the Institute of Applied Mathematics at the University of Berlin, where she was employed as an assistant to Richard Edler von Mises at the Institute of Applied Mathematics. In this same year, she married the statistician Felix Pollaczek who, like Geiringer, was born in Vienna into a Jewish family and had studied in Berlin. Pollaczek obtained his doctorate in 1922 and went on to work for the Reichspost (Postal service) in Berlin, applying mathematical methods to telephone connections. Hilda and Felix had a child, Magda, in 1922, but their marriage broke up. After the divorce, Geiringer continued working for von Mises and at the same time raised her child.

Her mathematical interests had switched from pure mathematics to probability and the mathematical development of plasticity theory. She received her "Habilitation" in applied mathematics with a thesis that combined statistics and mechanics. However, controversy about the appropriate independent role of "applied mathematics" within the German mathematical culture in Berlin delayed her approval to become Privatdozent (lecturer) until 1927.

She submitted a thesis for her Habilitation to qualify as an instructor at the University of Berlin, but it was not immediately accepted. Geiringer lost the right to teach at the university in December 1933. In fact, she had been proposed for appointment to the position of extraordinary professor in 1933 but the proposal had been ”put on hold” once the Civil Service Law came into effect two months after Adolf Hitler came to power. This law disqualified Jews from serving as teachers, professors, judges, or in other government positions. Geiringer left Germany after she was dismissed from the University of Berlin, and, after a brief stay as a research associate at the Institute of Mechanics in Belgium, Geiringer followed von Mises to Istanbul where she had been appointed as Professor of Mathematics and continued to research in applied mathematics, statistics, and probability theory.

During this time she wrote or published about 18 papers and a book, written in Turkish, based on her lecture notes on introductory calculus for chemistry students. Geiringer became intrigued with the basic principles of genetics formulated by Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel.

Geiringer left Turkey in 1939 after the Turkish government failed to extend her contract at the university. After a brief stay in Lisbon while waiting for an American visa, she emigrated to the United States and became a lecturer at Bryn Mawr College.

During 1942, she gave an advanced summer course in mechanics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, with the aim of raising the American standards of education to the level that had been attained in Germany. She wrote up her outstanding series of lectures on the geometrical foundations of mechanics and, although they were never properly published, these were widely disseminated and used in the United States for many years.

In 1943 she married Richard von Mises who was now teaching at Harvard. In 1944 Geiringer became professor and chair of the mathematics department at Wheaton College, a women's college in Massachusetts. She remained at Wheaton until her retirement in 1959. Attempts to find a position at some of the larger universities near Boston repeatedly failed. From 1955 to 1959 she did work as a research fellow in mathematics at Harvard in addition to her position at Wheaton. She published a series of articles in the Annals of Mathematical Statistics about the probability theory of linkage in Mendelian heredity. She also worked to complete her husband's unpublished manuscripts after his death in 1953, particularly his textbook Mathematical Theory of Probability and Statistics. It was then that Harvard offered her a temporary position as a Research Fellow in Mathematics. In 1959, she formally retired from Wheaton College. Hilda Geiringer died of pneumonia on March 22, 1973, while on a visit to California.

References:

An almost complete list of Hilda Geiringer's writings can be found at Binder (1992, pp. 47-51). In the following only a selection from the literature is listed:

Binder, C. (1992). „Hilda Geiringer: ihre ersten Jahre in Amerika.“ In: S. Demidov, M. Folkerts, D. Rowe, and C. Scriba (eds.): Amphora: Festschrift für Hans Wussing zu seinem 65. Geburtstag. Berlin, Boston, Basel: Birkhäuser, 2553.

Binder, C. (1995). „Beiträge zu einer Biographie von Hilda Geiringer. Jugend und Studium in Wien.“ Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Angewandte Mathematik und Mechanik (GAMM-Mitteilungen), Jg. 18, Heft 1, 61–72.

Eden, Alp and Irzık, Gürol (2012). “German Mathematicians in Exile in Turkey: Richard von Mises, William Prager, Hilda Geiringer, and Their Impact on Turkish Mathematics.” Historia Mathematica 39, 432–459.

Geiringer, H. (1918). „Über Trigonometrische Doppelreihen.“ Monatshefte für Mathematik und Physik 29, 65–144.

Geiringer, H. (1922). Die Gedankenwelt der Mathematik. Berlin, Frankfurt a.M.: Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft.

Geiringer, H. (1935). Methoden der theoretischen Statistik. Groningen: Noordhoff.

Geiringer, H. (1939a). „Zu Bemerkungen zur Hypothesenwahrscheinlichkeit.“ The Journal of Unified Science (Erkenntnis) 8, 352–353.

Geiringer, H. (1939b). „Über die Wahrscheinlichkeit von Hypothesen.“ The Journal of Unified Science (Erkenntnis) 8, 151–176.

Geiringer, H. (1942). Geometrical Foundations of Mechanics. Lecture Notes, Brown University. Providence, Rhode Island.

Geiringer, H. (1943). “The Geometric Foundations of the Mechanics of a Rigid Body.” The American Mathematical Monthly 50, No. 8, 492502

Siegmund-Schultze, R. (1993). “Hilda Geiringer von Mises, Charlier Series, Ideology, and the Human Side of the Emancipation of Applied Mathematics at the University of Berlin during the 1920s.” Historia Mathematica 20, 364381.

Siegmund-Schultze, R. (2009). Mathematicians Fleeing from Nazi Germany: Individual Fates and Global Impact. Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Vogt, A. (1998). „Erste Privatdozentin für angewandte Mathematik in Berlin.“ In: Berlinische Monatsschrift 7, Heft 12, 4045.

Sources

Rigorosenakt Hilda Geiringer Universitätsarchiv Wien: UAW_PH_RA_4355

Universitätsarchiv der Humboldt-Universität, Phil.Fak.01., Nr. 1242 (Titel: Habilitationen Dr. phil. habil., Laufzeit: 1927-1928, Enth. u. a.: Pollaczek, Hilda; Reproduktion via Microfiches Bl. 238-278)

Harvard University Archives, Cambridge: Papers of Professors, Active and Emeritus: Mises, Hilda von (Mrs. Richard von Mises, known professionally as Hilda Geiringer) (Applied Mathematics)