Biography of Professor Edward Drake Roe, Jr. , Founder of Pi Mu Epsilon

by May Naramore Harwood, Syracuse University

Published in the first issue of the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal

When Pi Mu Epsilon was founded at Syracuse University, the founder envisaged that, when it became a national organization with chapters in the leading universities and colleges of America, there would be both a desire and a need for the fraternity to have its own publication to knit the chapters more closely and to provide an outlet for papers not otherwise likely to be published. Now that this part of the vision is being fulfilled, it is fitting that a portion of the first issue of the publication be given to a sketch of the life and works of the man to whom the vision was given Ð Professor Edward Drake Roe, Jr. Professor Roe never doubted that Pi Mu Epsilon, once started, would flourish and the present large number of its widely distributed chapters would be no surprise to him.

Edward Drake Roe, Jr. was born at Elmira, N. Y. on the fourth of January, 1859, son of Edward Drake Roe, landowner, and his wife Eleanor Jane Roe, nee Frost. He was educated at the Elmira Academy and at Syracuse, Harvard and Erlangen universities where he studied under such well known teachers as French, Haven, Bennett, Coddington, Smalley, Brown, Comfort, O. W. Holmes, H. P. Bowditch, T. Dwight, Fitz, Wood, Hills, C. S. Minot, Bowen, Lovering, Royce, Byerly, B. O. Pierce, J. M. Pierce, Simon, Falchenberg, Widermann, Nšther and Gordan. He obtained the degrees of A.B. (Syracuse 1880 and Harvard 1885) and M.A. (Harvard 1886). He was associate professor of mathematics at Oberlin College from 1892 to 1899. Oberlin granted him a leave of absence for three years (1897 – 1899 inclusive) during which leave he went to the University of Erlangen, Bavaria, where he won his doctorate in 1898. He then returned to America and in 1901 was awarded the John Raymond French Chair of Mathematics at Syracuse University and some years later was appointed director of the Holden Observatory at Syracuse.

Professor Roe’s interest in astronomy was so great that in 1906 he erected on his own grounds a private observatory equipped with an Alvan Clark equatorial telescope, a superb 6 – 1/2 inch refractor with an objective by Ludin, a driving clock by Kandler, a micrometer by Gaertner, and several other smaller instruments. His observatory was considered one of the best equipped private observatories in the country. After his death, this observatory with all the equipment was given to Harvard College. In it he had found his recreation; besides making many observations of the sun, moon, planets, and comets, he discovered and measured 75 double stars.

Professor Roe so loved the observatory on the Syracuse campus that he held many of his graduate classes there. In a class in quarternions, the three students knew one another as Alpha, Beta, and Gamma and the twinkle in Professor Roe’s eyes showed that he understood that a fourth Greek letter was often added. A well-filled key ring gave evidence of his care of the observatory and he was quick to catch the implications when a student expresses astonishment on finding an unlocked compartment containing crayon and dustcloths.

In 1904, Professor Roe attended the Third International Congress of Mathematicians and toured the German universities.

Professor Roe was the author of many scientific articles on mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. He was coauthor of a textbook in trigonometry and one in algebra. He was the founder and director-general of the honorary mathematical fraternity, Pi Mu Epsilon, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, Pi Kappa Phi, and Delta Kappa Epsilon. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the American Mathematical Society, the founder and president of the Syracuse Astronomical Society, a member of the Deutsche Mathematiker Vareinigung, Circolo Matematico di Palermo and Societe Astronomique de France.

In appearance, Professor Roe was outstanding – tall, erect, spare and handsome; he dressed conservatively, usually in gray with ties of Harvard red. Coming across the campus in winter, in his long dark fur lined coat, a tall fur cap on his iron gray hair, his green felt book bag under his arm, and his rugged face reddened by the wind and snow, he was a goodly sight. The fur cap evidently was a treasure. On removal, when the snow and dampness were carefully brushed from its plushy surface, it was meticulously folded and placed in a desk compartment reserved for its concealment and protection. In this desk, too, during the early years of Phi Mu Epsilon, was stored the seal of the fraternity and on proper occasions this seal was used by Professor Roe himself to stamp the certificates of members. Other parts of his desk, like desks of many scholars, were piled with all sorts of papers, letters, notices, class notes, catalogues and manuscripts Ð seemingly in hopeless confusion; but Professor Roe’s fingers went to any desired object like steel to a magnet. His hands were most attractive. They were strong capable hands with long sensitive fingers, on one of which he wore an unusually fine and brilliant diamond ring. Difficult it was to decide whether the ring adorned the hand or the hand enhanced the beauty of the gem.

By his first wife Professor Roe had one daughter, Mrs. E. H. Gaggin of Syracuse. Some years after the death of his first wife he married Josephine Robinson, teacher of mathematics at Berea College in Kentucky. She loved the science of Mathematics as did her husband and earned her doctorate at Syracuse in that field.

Professor Roe was for twenty – nine years a teacher of mathematics at Syracuse University. Throughout his years of service as a teacher, he always stood for the highest ideals of intellectual honesty and scientific achievement. He stood for high scholarship, thorough scientific study and research. He impressed all who knew him as a scholar and teacher with a deep thirst for knowledge and an earnest desire to impart it with perfection. He worked with untiring patience in mathematics and its allied science astronomy in the University and in the community.

Professor Roe was the embodiment of character. He was a devoted teacher, a deep thinker, a philosopher and as earnest Christian. He died quite suddenly at his home on December 11, 1929. In his death Syracuse University and the scientific world suffered a distinct loss.