Pi Mu Epsilon Celebrates 100 Years of Mathematics and Scholarship

100 Years of Pi Mu Epsilon

by Darci L. Kracht

The year 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of Pi Mu Epsilon at Syracuse

University. It grew out of the Mathematical Club formed in 1903. By 1913, Professor Edward Drake Roe felt that the club focused too much on social activities at the expense of the scholarly aspects. At a meeting marking the 10th anniversary of the club, he proposed the formation of a “professional fraternity” with membership restricted to students with strong academic records and a serious interest in mathematics.

Roe led a committee charged with developing proposals for the organization of such a society. A convention in the spring of 1914 adopted a constitution and by-laws. They chose the name Pi Mu Epsilon, an acronym for a Greek phrase meaning “to promote scholarship and mathematics.” Officers were elected, including Roe as the first Director General. Finally, on May 25, 1914, the Pi Mu Epsilon Fraternity was incorporated in the State of New York.

Despite the “fraternity” designation, PME welcomed women as members from its inception. Three of the original eight “incorporators” were female. Women presented mathematical papers at many of the early meetings. Furthermore, when the prestigious committee on scholarship was established in 1916, the by-laws stipulated explicitly that both sexes be represented. The name of the organization was legally changed from “Pi Mu Epsilon Fraternity, Inc.” to “Pi Mu Epsilon, Inc.” in 1990.

The inauguration of a chapter at Ohio State University in 1919 started PME down the road to becoming a national organization. This was followed soon after by chapters at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Missouri, and the University of Alabama. However, Syracuse University still ran the show. That changed in 1922 when a national executive board was democratically elected from all chapters. Roe was again elected Director General, along withW. V. Houston (Ohio State) as Vice-Director General, Warren G. Bullard (Syracuse) as Secretary General, Louisa Lotz (Pennsylvania) as Treasurer General, and Mabel G. Kessler (Pennsylvania) as Librarian General.

On the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of PME in 1929, the society collected $75 to purchase a memento for founder Roe. They presented him with a scarf pin set with an aquamarine and two diamonds. While deeply appreciative of the gesture, Roe apparently didn’t care much for the pin. He exchanged it for a PME pin encrusted with small diamonds and rubies. On his death, Roe’s widow gave the pin to Alan D. Campbell, the president of the Syracuse Chapter of PME. The pin was rediscovered by Campbell’s widow in 1951. She sent it to the editor of the PME Journal, Ruth W. Stokes, who turned it over to Director General C. C. MacDuffee. In the November 1951 Journal article describing this series of events, Stokes wrote, “We decided that no more fitting disposition could be made of the pin than that it be worn by each succeeding director-general of the fraternity while in office.” The current whereabouts of the Founder’s Pin are a mystery.

Meanwhile, PME continued to add chapters. By the middle of the twentieth century the count had reached 50. A constitutional amendment paved the way for the first and only industrial affiliate chapter at the Evandale plant of the General Electric Corporation in 1957. That same year, PME donated $300 for the establishment of Mu Alpha Theta, a mathematics honor society for high school and junior college students founded by Richard V. and Josephine P. Andree. R. V. Andree was then PME Secretary-Treasurer General, a position he held for 21 years before serving as Vice President and President. It was also during the mid-century that PME established two of its cornerstone activities: an undergraduate student journal and student paper sessions at its summer national meeting.

The Pi Mu Epsilon Journal was launched in 1949 under the editorship of Ruth W. Stokes. Its primary objective was to publish mathematics articles aimed at and written by undergraduate students. Finding good mathematical content challenged the first several editors. Chapter reports and lists of new members comprised a substantial portion of the Journal in its early years.

To lure submissions to the Journal, an annual prize for the top paper authored by an undergraduate student was established in 1966. This was expanded in 1971 to first, second, and third prizes for papers by undergraduate or beginning graduate students. These awards were named in honor of R .V. Andree in 1987.

A Problem Department appeared in the very first issue and has been a popular presence ever since. To celebrate the anniversary, current Problems Editors Steven J. Miller, James M. Andrews, and Avery T. Carr, have created 100 additional Centennial Problems, one corresponding to each year of the society’s existence. These are being published in four groups, according to the congruence of the year modulo 4.

In the April 1952 issue of the Journal, Secretary-Treasurer General J. Sutherland Frame published a call for student speakers at the upcoming national meeting of PME. The meeting was to be held at his home institution of Michigan State College on Labor Day, in conjunction with the summer meetings of the MAA and AMS. Frame urged each chapter to send a student speaker or delegate, writing, “This is a real opportunity for students interested in mathematics to become acquainted with each other and their future colleagues in the profession. The cooperation of each of you is requested to make this meeting a success.” Frame provided a tentative schedule, with a two-hour time slot for “[f]our or five 20 minute talks, including at least two by students.” As it turned out, there were six student speakers and PME had to add an evening session to accommodate them. In the November 1952 issue of the Journal, Frame reported, “These six student papers . . . were the unusual feature of the national meeting, and were of much higher caliber than one might have expected from relatively inexperienced speakers.”

Student paper presentations again featured at the national summer meeting in 1955, 1957, and annually from 1960, excepting only 1962 and 1974 (when no national meeting took place). The meetings continued to be held in conjunction with the AMS-MAA joint summer meetings until the AMS discontinued its summer national meeting. Since then they have occurred at MathFest with the generous support and cooperation of the MAA. While the number of student presentations at the PME sessions has varied from year to year, the general trend has been upward. The count reached 46 in 1989 for the 75th anniversary and a record 80 this year for the 100th.

The society has provided travel support for speakers and student delegates from the start. It has also provided incentives in the form of monetary prizes for the best talks. Since 1989, the NSA has provided a generous grant for subsistence support and the AMS has donated prize money. (A complete list of this year’s sponsors is found below.)

Most PME summer meetings included a plenary address by a noted mathematician. This practice was formalized as the J. Sutherland Frame Lecture Series. Frame himself delivered the inaugural lecture, “Matrix Functions: A Powerful Tool,” in 1975.

PME established the C. C. MacDuffee Award for Distinguished Service in 1965 in honor of its seventh president. The highest award offered by the society, it is to be bestowed “often enough to be recognized and seldom enough to be meaningful.” The first two MacDuffee Awards were given to J. S. Frame and R. V. Andree at the Rutgers meeting in 1966. At that time, PME had 120 chapters, 51 of which had been installed by Frame.

A 1965 constitutional revision updated the titles Director General and Vice Director General to President and Vice President, respectively. Another revision in 1972 gave the national council its present form. The office of Vice President was renamed President-Elect. The President-Elect automatically succeeds to President, and then to Past President, serving one three-year term in each office. The Secretary-Treasurer, PME Journal Editor, and four Councillors round out the council.

Meanwhile, the society continued to grow. By the 75th anniversary in 1989, there were 257 chapters and close to 90,000 members. Recognizing that the chapters form the bedrock of the society, PME established a lectureship grant program. This enables chapters to bring a member of council to their institution to give a talk and offer advice on how to build and maintain a vibrant chapter. Richard A. Good, a four-term Secretary-Treasurer and two-term Councillor, funded this program anonymously for many years. A bequest made this funding permanent at his death in 2008. The program was then renamed the Richard A. Good Pi Mu Epsilon Lectureship and Chapter Enhancement Program, or Good Lectureship for short. Chapters are also eligible for Prize Grants and Conference Grants for hosting a meeting.

By the end of the twentieth century, PME had established a web page. President J. Douglas Faires wrote in the Spring 2000 issue of the PME Journal that “we want to make [the web site] the primary vehicle for communication for the organization.” Chapter reports and other announcements were moved to the web, enabling the Journal to take on a more professional tone under the guidance of Editor Brigitte Servatius. The society also embarked on a project to computerize its membership records. In 2008, after six years of work, all members of all chapters had been entered into the database. A major redesign of the web site was launched in the spring of 2014. The first eleven volumes of the PME Journal are posted on the site along with a searchable index through 2001. In addition, there are forms for applying for grants, submitting chapter reports, enrolling members, and so on.

In 2008, PME introduced a triennial Advisor’s Award to recognize outstanding chapter advisors. The first recipient was Michelle Ghrist, advisor of the Colorado Gamma Chapter at the US Air Force Academy.

And still, the society grows. Under the leadership of President Angela S. Spalsbury, Pi Mu Epsilon will embark on its second century with 382 chapters, representing 47 states and the District of Columbia. The states without chapters are Hawaii, Idaho, and Wyoming. Our goal is to reach 400 chapters, covering all 50 states by the end of 2014.


The above brief history was compiled from documents available on the Pi Mu Epsilon web page http://pme-math.org/. The author regrets any errors (which she hopes are few) and omissions (which she knows are many). Please send corrections and additions to darci@math.kent.edu.

This article first appeared in the Mathfest 2014 Student Program