1865-1947

It all started in Ohio. Not in Columbus, but in Fairfield County. Benjamin Franklin Finkel was born there in 1865. He attended the Ridge country school in Fairfield County, where "disorder reigned supreme" until a new teacher used his muscle to subdue the older boys. When Finkel was fifteen he encountered a "very superior country school teacher," George W. Bates, who had more influence on him than anyone else besides his mother. "Though small in stature and crippled in limb," Bates was a man of courage, honesty, firmness, and judgement, who strove to instill these character traits in his students. It was at this time that Finkel's interest in mathematics was aroused.

A problem had been making the rounds, and Finkel's older half-brother heard it at the village store, and brought it home:

There is a ball 12 feet in diameter on top of a pole 60 feet high. On the ball stands a man whose eye is six feet above the ball. How much ground beneath the ball is invisible to him?

Finkel asked his teacher, Bates, about the problem, who explained
that
it might be solved by geometry. But since Finkel saw neither an
algebra nor a geometry book till he was seventeen, this advice was
of
little help. He had studied Ray's *Third Part Arithmetic*,
so attempted
to solve it using the rules of mensuration in that book. It was
several years before he succeeded, but a problem solver was born.
In
1931, Finkel reminisced that "this perfectly senseless problem,
with
no value whatsoever from the standpoint of modern educational
theory,
nevertheless was the borax in the mortar which retarded mental
hardening until a time arrived when other elements could play
their
part in the active materials of a life, and it seems to me that
such a
result should be the test by which the value of a problem should
be
gauged."

At eighteen Finkel left the county school to attend Ohio Normal
University in Ada, Ohio, a school now called - after Finkel's
suggestion - Ohio Northern University. He received his B.S. in
1888
and a M.S. in 1891. While a student there, and for several years
afterwards, Finkel conducted a mathematical column in the *University
Herald*. After a year of college he began teaching in the the
rural
schools of Ohio, while continuing work on his degrees. He taught
first in Fostoria, and later in Gibson, Tennessee. Then he became
superintendent in North Lewisburg and finally West Middleburg.
Sadly,
Finkel "became thoroughly discouraged and disheartened because of
the
dishonorable political methods used in securing positions in most
of
the city schools in Ohio," and so in 1892 joined his friend, G. W.
Shaw, Principle of Kidder School in Kidder, Missouri, where he
often
taught forty-five three-quarter-hour periods per week. (Later, at
the
college level, he only taught from nineteen to twenty-seven hours
per
week.) However, the Kidder School was free of the "petty politics
so
deadening to intellectual honesty and spiritual development," so
Finkel was finally able to "ascend to the mountain heights of
imagination and get glimpses of things unseen."

During his years as teacher in Ohio, Finkel devoted his leisure
time
to solving and posing problems in a variety of periodicals which
contained columns on mathematics, including the *Ohio
Educational
Monthly, The School Messenger*, the *Monthly* of
Davenport, Iowa, the
*Mathematical Magazine*, the *Mathematical Visitor*,
and the *School
Visitor*. Finkel awaited these magazines anxiously and was
disappointed when they did not appear with regularity. Finkel's
variety of teaching experience made him keenly aware that the
"mathematical teaching in our high schools and academies was very
deplorable and even worse in the rural schools." Consequently he
had
"the ambition to publish a journal devoted solely to mathematics
and
suitable to the needs of teachers of mathematics in these
schools."
The editor and publisher of the local newspaper in Missouri was
daring
enough to agree to print the new journal. Finkel also secured the
assistance of John M. Colaw of Monterey, Virginia, whom he knew
through his contributions to the *School Visitor*, to assist
him as
co-editor. In the fall of 1893, Finkel decided to give his journal
an
ambitious and prophetic title, *The American Mathematical
Monthly*.

Finkel and Colaw then began writing high school teachers of
mathematics and professors in the colleges and universities in
order
to solicit subscribers and contributions. The first response came
from the superintendent of the Kansas City schools, who enclosed
his
check for $2.00, and a promise that he would bring the new journal
to
the attention of all his mathematics teachers. The first response
from the university level came from George Bruce Halsted of the
University of Texas, the "stormy petrel" in the mathematical
world,
who was "in his element when in the midst of a violent verbal
storm
initiated by himself or otherwise." Halsted promised contributions
for publication and sent a check for $30.00, an amount he
contributed
each year until he was fired at Texas for one of his verbal
storms.
Unfortunately, the school teachers of mathematics saw no need for
such
a journal and so the *Monthly* "became occupied with a more
virile race
of mathematicians," adopting itself as a repository of articles of
permanent wealth to teachers of collegiate mathematics.

The first issue of *The American Mathematical Monthly*
appeared in
January, 1894. Finkel's introduction to the issue proclaimed the
purpose of the journal and indicated that there would be a problem
section - a section which has been a mainstay of the *Monthly*
for
almost a century. His words are both modest and autobiographical:

While realizing that the solution of problems is one of the lowest forms of Mathematical research, and that, in general, it has no scientific value, yet its educational value cannot be over estimated. It is the ladder by which the mind ascends into higher fields of original research and investigation. Many dormant minds have been aroused into activity through the mastery of a single problem.One of the most amazing things about theThe American Mathematical Monthlywill, therefore, devote a due portion of its space to the solution of problems, whether they be the easy problems in Arithmetic, or the difficult problems in the Calculus, Mechanics, Probability, or Modern Higher Mathematics.

Interesting as it would be to discuss the early issues of the
Monthly
in great detail, that would be a digression from our story. For
further information, and the source of all of the above
quotations,
see the text of a talk that Finkel gave at an annual MAA meeting
in
Cleveland on "The Human Aspect in the Early History of *The
American
Mathematical Monthly*" [AMM 38(1931), 305-320].

In June of 1895 Finkel became professor of mathematics and physics at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, where he remained until his death in 1947. Immediately after being hired, he set off to attend the summer session at the recently founded University of Chicago. That summer he met and became friends with Leonard Eugene Dickson. Two years earlier, as a nineteen year old graduate student of Halsted at Texas, Dickson had published an article on Pythagorean Triples in the very first issue of the Monthly. Later, in 1900, Finkel secured Dickson's assistance as co-editor (Colaw having become involved in writing elementary textbooks), and also a subsidy of $50.00 per year from the University of Chicago to support publication. When Dickson resigned in 1906, he "suggested that his mantle be placed upon the shoulders of the aggressive, indomitable, and persevering Professor H. E. Slaught." "After a very conscientious debate with himself, he decided to devote his life to the promotion and improvement of the teaching of mathematics rather than to a research career." Consequently, Slaught accepted, and so the journal continued in strong mathematical hands.

But there were problems. The typesetting was very difficult, and
there were often delays. There were fears that the publisher would
quit and, of course, there were constant financial worries. Finkel
was afraid that he might have to cease publication. Consequently,
in
the summer of 1912, Finkel traveled to Chicago to visit Slaught
and
discuss these problems. Slaught was successful in enlisting the
cooperation of other institutions and, beginning with Volume XX,
the *Monthly* was published under the auspices of a dozen
universities and
two colleges. This arrangement was satisfactory, but not
permanent,
so Slaught approached the American Mathematical Society to see if
they
would take over the journal.

In April, 1914, the Chicago Section of
the American Mathematical Society set up a committee of five to
investigate whether the Society should take over publication of
the
Monthly. The next April, by a vote of three to two, the committee
deemed it unwise to take over the *Monthly*, but declared
their support
for any additional organization that might be formed to support
collegiate mathematics.

Professor Slaught conceived the idea of a new mathematical organization to support collegiate mathematics. He wrote hundreds of letters to professors of mathematics in the United States and Canada setting forth his plan. In June, 1915, Slaught sent out a form letter requesting the return of a postcard if the recipient believed a new organization with the following four goals should be formed:

- To provide organized activity in the large field between the fields of secondary school mathematics and the field of pure research.
- To form a medium of communication and a forum for exchange of ideas between teachers and others interested in collegiate mathematics.
- To furnish a place for publication of scientific articles and papers adapted to this intermediate field.
- To publish historical articles, book reviews, notes and news, and indeed any matters of interest to the great body of men and women related to this field. [Jones, in The MAA: Its First Fifty Years, p. 20.]

In the October, 1915, *Monthly* Slaught reported - and this
is the first
mention of the Association that appeared there - that he had
received
approximately 350 replies, only a half dozen of which were in any
way
opposed to the proposal. Eventually 450 replies were received,
representing every state in the Union [AMM22(1915), 352]. It was
proposed to hold an organizational meeting in conjunction with the
annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science in Columbus, Ohio, on December 30-31, 1915. "The name of
the
new society, its precise character and policy, its relation to *The
American
Mathematical Monthly*, etc., will be questions for full
discussion and determination at the organization meeting." [AMM,
October 1915, p. 253]

However, not all of the interest in new mathematical organizations was being generated at the national level.

The first meeting of the Kansas Association of Teachers of College Mathematics was held at Topeka, Kansas, November 12 [1915]. This meeting was the result of a movement initiated in the spring of 1915 for the improvement of teaching collegiate mathematics in the colleges of Kansas. It is a part of a nation wide movement having the same end. . . .This action of the college teachers of mathematics in Kansas is the first step in a movement that promises to grow rapidly. Definite plans are already formed for a similar organization in Ohio during the Christmas holidays, in conjunction with the meeting to be called for organizing a new national mathematical association, which is to be held at Columbus on Thursday, December 30, at ten o'clock in Page Hall of Ohio State University. [AMM, 22(1915), 324, November issue.]

*Article excerpted from The
Ohio Section: 1915-1990,
edited by David E. Kullman.*