Beginning of the Mathematical Association of America
Beginning of the Southwestern Section - 1936
First Meeting of the Southwestern Section - 1937
Historical Highlights of the Section
Program Highlights of the Sections
Invited Speakers
Membership Growth
The Certificate of Meritorious Service


Most of the older material about the section was collected from annual reports by the section secretary in the Monthly and from the infamous "box of history" of the section. More recent material was obtained from the current secretary Joanne V. Peeples at El Paso Community College. The paragraph on Carroll Newsom is an extraction from his autobiography, Problems Are for Solving and from Richard Griego's history of the mathematics department of the University of New Mexico. The first section on the beginning of MAA used information from the MAA publication The Mathematical Association of America: Its First Fifty years, edited by Kenneth O. May in 1972.

A quick review of the history of the section through 1996 can be achieved by scanning the appendix summarizing the annual meetings. Since many readers will not recognize the older names of institutions in the section, acronyms of the current names are used. A list of these abbreviations can be found in the appendix.

To facilitate the next writing of the section history, the inevitable errors and omissions should be pointed out to the author or to the section secretary.

Section members all are indebted to the small handful of mathematicians who founded the section and kept it alive those first few years. We are thankful that the section officers, and in particular the secretaries, did carefully preserve and pass on to their successors the records so vital to the writing of the history. Special thanks are due Victor Katz and Maureen Callanan of the MAA staff who kindly helped me get started and gave me a tour of the beautiful MAA headquarters building in Washington.

Everett L. Walter
Professor Emeritus
Northern Arizona University
April 1996

(History updated in February 2015 by William Yslas Vélez)


An MAA organizational meeting was held at Ohio State University on December 30 and 31, 1915 at the time of a divisional meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting. (The Southwestern Section also was organized at a AAAS divisional meeting.) While 104 mathematicians were in attendance, the prime movers were B. F. Finkel, E. R. Hedrick, W. D. Cairns and chiefly H. E. Slaught. (Finkel founded The American Mathematical Monthly. The latter three became the first, nineteenth and fourth presidents of the Association.) The American Mathematical Monthly, first published in 1894, was taken over by the MAA in 1916.

Membership dues originally were $3.00 and had increased only to $6.00 by 1964. There were 1046 charter members, 4 from Arizona and 3 from New Mexico. The gross expenditures in 1916 were $3,712. The Association was incorporated in Illinois on September 8, 1920. Although we "Americans" think of the Association as national it was meant from the start to be North American in extent. The object of the MAA was (and still is) "to assist in promoting the interests of mathematics in America, especially in the collegiate field." Geographically the origination of MAA was primarily in the Midwest. From the beginning, there were geographical sections. In fact, three sections of MAA had met before the 1915 organizational meeting.

Undergraduate Mathematics Clubs were sponsored in 1919. The William Lowell Putnam Competition was begun in 1938. The Chauvenet Prize Fund and the Carus Mathematical Monographs were initiated in 1925. The Slaught Memorial Papers started in 1947. The Earle Raymond Hedrick Lectures began in 1952. The Association began producing films in 1959. The L. R. Ford Award was established in 1965. In 1961, the Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics was established. The Committee on Undergraduate Programs in Mathematics (CUPM) was endorsed as "a distant arm" of MAA in 1958 as an outgrowth of the old CUP of MAA which first met in 1953. Professor Robert J. Wisner, now of NMSU, was the first Executive Director of CUPM.

For other interesting history of MAA, see:
a. Kenneth O. May, Editor, The Mathematical Association of America: Its First Fifty years, MAA, 1972. (See especially pp. 97-98 for a note about the Southwestern Section.)
b. Albert A. Bennett, Brief History of the Mathematical Association of America Before World War II, MAA Monthly, Vol. 74, Part II, 1967, pp. 1-11.
c. R. A. Rosenbaum, History of the MAA since World War II, MAA Monthly, Vol. 74, Part II, 1967, pp. 12-22.


The By-laws for the Southwestern Section of MAA were adopted by a group of mathematicians at the sixteenth annual meeting of the Southwestern Division of AAAS held April 27-30, 1936 in Flagstaff and Grand Canyon, AZ. Speakers at this meeting were Harold Colton, Museum of Northern Arizona, president of the section, Dr. Tormey, president of Arizona State Teachers College of Flagstaff (now NAU) and John C. Merriam (for whom Merriam Crater in northern Arizona was named), president of the Carnegie Foundation.

The chairman of the mathematics section of that 1936 meeting was F. W. Sparks from Texas Technological College at Lubbock and the secretary was W. C. Risselman from Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff. Beside these two, considerable credit must be given to C. V. Newsom, University of New Mexico, for organizing the section. A copy of the original by-laws is in Appendix A. With the approval of the Board of Governors the Southwestern Section became the twenty-first of what is now twenty-nine sections. There were only six charter members each from Arizona and New Mexico and probably more than that from West Texas. Their names could not be found, but a list of thirteen members that attended the first meeting in 1937 is given in the secretarial report of that year. There were no charter institutional members.


In 1937 the secretarial reports to the MAA read much as they do today. The following is selected from the Monthly, Vol. 44 (1937), 429-432:

The first annual meeting of the Southwestern Section of the Mathematical Association of America was held at New Mexico State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NMSU), on Friday and Saturday, April 2-3, 1937.

The attendance was thirty-four, including the following thirteen members of the Association: J. W. Branson, NMSU; R. F. Graesser, UA; E. A. Hazlewood, NMSU; H. D. Larsen, UNM; C. V. Newsom, UNM; E. J. Purcell, UA; P. K. Rees, NSMU; W. C. Risselman, NAU; F. W. Sparks, TTC; R. S. Underwood, TTC; C. A. Barnhart, UA; H. B. Leonard, UA and E. L. Harp, Roswell, NM.

On Friday evening there was a banquet for mathematicians and their guests. The principal address after dinner was given by Professor Emeritus J. B. Shaw of the University of Illinois.

With professor P. K. Rees, Chairman of the Section, presiding, the following papers were presented on Friday:
1. "Some mathematical computations involved in a determination of the oxygen parameters of sodium periodate" by Professor E. A. Hazlewood, New Mexico State College.
2. "Hedging as a mathematical art" by Dr. H. D. Larsen, University of New Mexico.
3. "Involutions" by Dr. E. J. Purcell, University of Arizona.
4. "The characteristic equation of a certain type of continued fraction expansion" by Professor P. M. Singer, New Mexico State Teachers College introduced by the secretary.
5. "A study of a recent theorem of W. B. Ford" by D. A. Lawson (introduced by Professor Newsom) and Professor C. V. Newsom, University of New Mexico.
6. "Algebras defined by abstract groups whose operators are all of the form AxBy" by Professor J. B. Shaw, University of Illinois, introduced by the secretary.
7. "Some corollaries of the Fourier-Budan theorem" by Professor W. C. Risselman, Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff.
8. "Relative delicacy of certain convergence tests" by Professor R. S. Underwood, Texas Technological College.

On Saturday afternoon there was a symposium on the teaching problems in mathematics. With R. F. Graesser presiding, the following papers were presented:
1. "The teaching of a unit in hyperbolic functions" by Professor Edna Graham, West Texas State Teachers College, introduced by Professor Graesser.
2. "College mathematics and the new curriculum" by Professor F. W. Sparks, Texas Technological College.
3. "Suggestions for research in teaching procedure" by Professor Branson, New Mexico State College.
4. "Meeting the problem in freshman mathematics" by Professor J. L. Olpin, Gila Junior College, Thatcher, Ariz., introduced by Professor Graesser.
5. "What is to be done about high school mathematics" by Professor Charles Wexler, Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe, introduced by Professor Graesser.

Abstracts included such statements as:

"Only a small percent of students have taken more than the required high school courses. This creates a problem that will be more and more serious until a solution is found." "Students who register for freshman mathematics cannot be expected to have very much background" Professor Wexler advocated that "College mathematics departments should ruthlessly weed out from among their majors the incompetents who just get by in each course."

Alas, it seems that the problems of teaching mathematics have changed very little over the years! Found in the same Monthly is an advertisement for K. & E. slide rules and one for the Duke Mathematical Journal for $2.00 per year.


A complete list of all section meetings, including dates, sites, numbers of registrants, chairpersons, secretary/treasurers, governors, invited speakers and traveling lecturers is given in Appendix C. Details about invited speakers and programs are given in separate sections of this history. All meetings of the Southwestern Section of MAA previous to World War II were held jointly with the Southwestern Division of AAAS in association with as many as twelve other scientific groups. It is assumed that the number of registrants during those years included many from other organizations.

The 1938 meeting in Albuquerque was held in association with the AAAS, AAUP Society of American Foresters and American Society of Civil Engineers.

The 1939 meeting at Sul Ross State Teachers College in Alpine Texas was held in conjunction with 13 other associations! The total section expenses for the meeting were $6.98 with a negative balance in the treasury of $5.17. On April 23, 1940 the balance had increased to a positive $0.04. L. E. Mehlenbacher, NAU was an active member in 1939. After leaving the section he was active elsewhere in the MAA, and as late as 1974 he was the chairperson of the MAA Committee on Sections.

Carroll V. Newsom came to UNM in 1928. We owe much to him for the organization of the section and for his leadership in mathematics, not only in the Southwest, but also at the national level. He served on the first Board of Governors in 1940-1942 as governor of Region 12 that contained the Southwestern Section. He chaired the committee that created the Slaught Memorial papers and at one time chaired the MAA Putnam Competition Committee. From 1947 to 1952 he edited the American Mathematical Monthly. He was eventually to be the president of New York University and was well known throughout the world for his many accomplishments. In 1976 he was Chairperson of the Guggenheim Foundation when he was invited to speak to the section. His autobiography, Problems Are for Solving, relates some interesting stories about teaching mathematics in the Southwest in the thirties and forties.

There were no sectional meetings in 1943-1946. With two exceptions, both summer and winter national MAA meetings were held during those years. The war displaced many mathematicians from the Southwest, some permanently. It did, however, bring many mathematicians in government and industry into the area. Much of the post-war growth of the section can be attributed to this influx.

In 1946 there still were only 9 MAA members in Arizona and 24 in New Mexico; Butchart and Lampland in Flagstaff; Wexler in Tempe; Olpin in Thatcher; Boldyreff, Graesser, Leonard, Mewborn and Purcell in Tucson; Bauer, Hove, La Paz, Larsen and Rosenthal in Albuquerque; Roberts and Rodgers in Las Vegas; Linscheid in Portales; Harp in Roswell, Hamming and Whitman in Santa Fe; Reece in Socorro and Heinzman, Swingle and Wells in Las Cruces.

Regional governors were replaced by sectional governors in 1947. The first sectional governor was R. S. Underwood, Texas Technological College. He was quite active in the section in the early years and was still attending meetings as late as 1956.

The boundary of the section seems to have fluctuated, at least unofficially, through the years. It has always included Arizona and New Mexico. At first it certainly extended as far east as Lubbock and Alpine, Texas. In fact, the third and fifth meetings were held at these sites and our first sectional governor was from Lubbock. In January 1949 the area served by the section was set by the Board of Governors as Arizona and New Mexico. In April of that year at the NMSU meeting, the El Paso group asked to be moved into the section. This was later effected by the Board of Governors and the boundaries to this day include El Paso, Texas (zip codes 79900-79999).

In 1968, records were broken in attendance and in the number of papers presented at a section meeting. Associate memberships to the MAA were awarded to two students at UNM and one at UA, who were winners in the 28th annual Putnam Competition. The section has continued this practice to the present. That year also saw a paper presented by an undergraduate student, Steve Wilson, NAU, now on the faculty there.

In 1979 Ralph Ball, NMIMT was appointed Governor of the Southwestern Section for one year by the Board of Governors. He replaced Governor Nymann who was out of the country.

In recent years the section has met jointly with several mathematical organizations. The 1982 meeting at UA was held in conjunction with La Sociedad Matematica de Sonora. At that meeting Marco Antonio Valencia of Universidad de Sonora made a special presentation "Projecto de Maestria en Mathematical Educativa (MasterUs Program in Mathematics Education)." Again in 1985 at UA the section met jointly with American Mathematical Society and Sociedad Matematica Mexicana. The 1986 meeting at UTEP was held jointly with the New Mexico Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the El Paso Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Sociedad de Professores de Matematica de Mexico.

The 1988 meeting at NAU was held jointly with the Arizona Mathematics Consortium and Arizona Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges (ArizMATYC). There was an inspiring panel discussion of programs for minority groups. Programs at UTEP for Mexican-Americans were discussed by Professor Jesus Provencio who has been active in such programs in both El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. Programs at NAU for Native-Americans were presented by Charles Moore. Some of the programs reported on reached Hopi Indians and blacks. Professor Rueben Hersh, UNM, moderator of the panel, was asked to write an article on minority participation for the Focus.

Women have been active in the section since the beginning. At the very first meeting Professor Edna Graham, West Texas State Teachers College presented a paper. However it was 1992 before the section saw its first woman officer, Joanne Peeples, EPCC, as Secretary/Treasurer. Since then we have had two section chairwomen, Anne Dudley, GCC and currently, Janet McShane, NAU. Invited papers, presentations and panel discussions regarding women in mathematics have been an ongoing part of section meetings. As in the total MAA organization, a large percentage of our active membership consists of women.

The section is proud of its efforts to involve two-year colleges and Junior colleges. The 1991 meeting at NMSU was such a meeting with the New Mexico Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges. The section's efforts to encourage student involvement have had some success with as many as three student papers presented at a recent meeting. The section also has recently begun the presentation of annual Distinguished Teaching Awards at the banquet of each meeting.

In browsing the records one finds the names of members who have attended meetings and served the section faithfully for many years. To mention a few of the older ones: Dave Arterburn, NMIMT; Harvey Butchart, NAU; Ed Gaughan, NMSU; H. D. Larsen, UNM; W. W. Mitchell, PC; Al Swimmer, ASU; Everett Walter, NAU. These people have provided an important continuity through the years.


The Traveling Lecturer Program:

From 1937 to 1955 the section elected one of its members as a traveling lecturer. These are listed in Appendix C. Ideally the talks were to be comprehensible to college freshmen but were to contain ideas of interest to all levels of mathematics students. These individuals received only their expenses. Topics included Synthetic Geometry, The Golden Section and The Binary System. Beginning in 1950, lecturers were appointed from both Arizona and New Mexico and served for two years. When this function was developed on a national scale in 1955 by the MAA the section discontinued its program.

The High School Mathematics Examination

The Southwestern Section has always been active in the Annual High School Mathematics Examination (AHSME) which is sponsored, in part, by MAA. In 1955 Max Kramer, NMSU served on the MAA Committee of High School Contests, a predecessor of the permanent committee which first met in 1957. James Nymann, UTEP coordinated the examination for the section until 1969. David Arterburn, NMIMT has served faithfully for many years, from 1969 to 1986 as coordinator for the section and from 1986 to the present as coordinator for New Mexico. The coordinator for Arizona since 1986 has been Elias Toubassi, UA. The number of participants has been impressive. For example, in 1977 there were 4400 participants from 69 schools in Arizona and New Mexico. More recently, in 1993 there were 20 schools and 1820 individuals in New Mexico.

The William Lowell Putnam Competition

In 1939 the Putnam Competition was initiated as a result of a gift from the trustees of the Putnam estate. Each year in December undergraduates in much of the nation take an exam consisting of about twelve very challenging questions. The results of these exams are posted the following spring. As early as 1968 the section was granting one year MAA associate membership awards to those students who ranked highest.

The Newsletter

E. D. Gaughan, NMSU initiated the Newsletter for the Southwestern Section. The first letter came out in October, 1987 and the second in February, 1988. News items from colleges, university and industry were encouraged. Included were brief notes about meetings, past and present, and reports from the secretary, chairperson and governor.

Beginning with Spring 2010, the Newsletter became electronic, under the guidance of Allen Stenger.

The list of editors of the Newsletter follows:

A website for the Southwestern Section was created by Janet McShane at Northern Arizona University. Janet was webmaster for the period 1997–2004. John Hagood assumed the job as webmaster (also at NAU) for the period 2005–2009. At our 2009 Spring meeting at WNMU, Allen Stenger volunteered to be both the Section's webmaster and newsletter editor. The Southwestern Section website was moved to MAA (in DC), so that it would conform to MAA's "rules". This website is as follows: http://sections.maa.org/southwestern/.

The Southwestern Section of the MAA Distinguished Teacher Awards

The Southwestern Section of the MAA began making this annual award in 1992. The list of recipients follows: The recipients of this award are also eligible for consideration for the MAAs Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award. The following individuals also received the Haimo Award the year after receiving the Southwestern Section of the MAA Distinguished Teaching Award.


The list of invited speakers to the section meetings is indeed impressive. Some were section members, but often they were MAA officers. There have always been a variety of presentations, some on technical and expository mathematics, some on mathematical education, some on women and minorities in mathematics, some on history and some on interesting combinations of these. Presidents and past presidents of MAA have often accepted invitations to speak. For a complete list of speakers see the Summary of Meetings in the Appendix C. The following list gives a flavor of these speakers and their topics.

The reader will notice that there are many missing entries in the list that follows. Appendix C contains the names of the invited speakers but not the titles of their talks. If you happen to have an old program that lists the titles of the talks, please send them to the Webmaster. Any such information would be much appreciated by the section.


Membership growth of the section has been astonishing, from a beginning of about two dozen in 1936 to over 600 in 1995. But there are two discouraging notes. One is that, the ratio of membership of the Southwestern Section to that of the MAA has remained relatively constant, notwithstanding the phenomenal population expansion in the United States Southwest. The other is that attendance at meetings has not increased by any significant amount in sixty years; average attendance in the early years after World War II being about the same as in later years. To venture a reason for this, in earlier years the annual sectional meeting was often the only personal contact that an individual had with others of his/her profession. The effect of this was probably more noticeable than in other sections of MAA. With todayUs larger campuses and mathematics faculties, with increases in communication and easier access to national level meetings, the necessity to mix might not be as great.

The Summary of Meetings in the Appendix C shows the total number registered and the number of MAA members registered for most meetings. In studying these figures, one should be cautioned to the fact that many meetings were in association with other groups, sometimes non-mathematical groups, and that the registration may or may not include these.

The actual membership in the section, except for what portion of Texas to include, is easier to track. As stated earlier, there were 6 charter members each from Arizona and New Mexico and probably more than that from West Texas, making a total membership of about 25. In 1946 there were 9 Association members in Arizona and 24 in New Mexico. Their names are given in a previous section of this history. In 1949 when membership in Arizona was 20 and in New Mexico was 27, the total MAA membership was 3748. The New Mexico number more than doubled in the next two years to 61 in 1951! Figures that are available show the membership, now including El Paso, in the past forty years. It is interesting to compare membership of section with that of the total MAA:



In 1984 MAA initiated the first Certificates of Meritorious Service. Each year one member from five or six sections is presented with the certificate at the national meeting for service to a section. Nominations for the certificate are made by a committee of the section and submitted to MAA. These awards will be made every five years to a member of the Southwestern Section. The awards are as follows:


Appendix A.

The original copy of the by-laws reads:

(Adopted April 28, 1936 and subject to sanction by the Association)

1. NAME. The name of this section shall be the Southwestern Section of the Mathematical Association of America.

2. PURPOSES. The purpose of this Section shall be to carry out in this region the purposes of the national organization, to afford a meeting place for members in this region, and to promote all the interests of mathematics in so far as is possible.

3. MEMBERSHIP. The membership of the Section shall be the membership of the national organization resident in Arizona and New Mexico; but other members of the Association shall be welcome at any meeting and individual members of the Association resident in areas immediately adjacent to Arizona and New Mexico may affiliate as individual members. Persons not members of the Association may be invited to attend the meetings.

4. OFFICERS. The officers of the Section shall be a chairman, a vice-chairman, and a secretary-treasurer. These three officers shall constitute the program committee. The secretary-treasurer has the duty of notifying members in regard to meetings of the Section and of preparing a report of each program for the American Mathematical Monthly. The chairman and vice-chairman shall be elected annually and the secretary-treasurer shall be elected to serve for a period of four years.

5. MEETINGS. Meetings may be called at any time by vote of the officers, or by resolution by the members at a previous meeting. There shall be at least one meeting every year in the spring.

Submitted for the Section by the Secretary,
(Signed) W. C. Risselman

Appendix B.

(The current names are shown in chronological order of the first meeting at the site.)

NMSU New Mexico State University (formerly New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts), Las Cruces, NM
UNM University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
SRSTC Sul Ross State Teachers College, Alpine, TX
UA University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
TTC Texas Technical College, Lubbock, TX
NMHU New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM
NAU Northern Arizona University (formerly Arizona State Teachers College at Flagstaff), Flagstaff, AZ
ASU Arizona State University (formerly Arizona State College, and Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe), Tempe, AZ
HAFB Holloman Air Force Base, NM
UTEP University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX
GCC Glendale Community College, Glendale, AZ
ENMU Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, NM
PC Phoenix College, Phoenix, AZ
NMIMT New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (formerly New Mexico School of Mines), Socorro, NM
NMWU New Mexico Western University, Silver City, NM
EPCC El Paso Community College, El Paso, TX
NMSUG New Mexico State University at Grants, Grants, NM
PCC Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ

Appendix C.

A summary of each section meeting is here.