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Geiringer, Hilda (1893–1973)

Geiringer, Hilda (1893–1973)

German applied mathematician and statistician. Born on September 28, 1893, in Vienna; died on March 22, 1973, in Santa Barbara, California; only daughter and one of two children of Ludwig (a textile manufacturer) and Martha (Wertheimer) Geiringer; University of Vienna, Ph.D., 1917; married Felix Pollaczek (a mathematician), in 1921 (divorced 1925); married Richard von Mises (a mathematician), on November 5, 1943 (died 1954); children: (first marriage) one daughter, Magda.

The daughter of a Jewish textile manufacturer, Hilda Geiringer was born on September 28, 1893, in Vienna. She received her Ph.D. in pure mathematics from the University of Vienna in 1917. In 1921, after working for a year as editor of the Fortschritte der Mathematik, she accepted an academic position at the University of Berlin, working as the assistant to Richard von Mises in the Institute of Applied Mathematics. That same year, she married fellow mathematician Felix Pollaczek, with whom she had a daughter, Magda, the following year. In 1925, they divorced, and as a single parent Geiringer pursued her career. After six years at the university, she was recognized for her outstanding teaching as well as for her important research in probability theory and the mathematical development of plasticity theory, which led to the Geiringer equations for plane plastic deformations (1930). In 1933, when Hitler came into power and all Jewish educators in Berlin lost their jobs, Geiringer fled to Turkey, where, after learning the language, she obtained a job lecturing at Istanbul University. By 1939, however, even Turkey was not safe, and she and her daughter came to the United States. Shortly after her arrival, she secured a position as a lecturer at Bryn Mawr College.

In 1943, Geiringer married Richard von Mises, her former employer at the University of Berlin and now a full professor at Harvard University. She moved to Massachusetts in 1944, to chair the mathematics department at Wheaton College in Norton, a position she held until her retirement. In addition to her demanding teaching schedule, Geiringer continued to work on her own research into statistics, particularly the mathematical basis of Mendelian genetics. When von Mises died in 1953, Geiringer received a grant from the Office of Naval Research to complete his work at Harvard. In 1958, with Geoffrey Ludford, she finished one of her husband's incomplete manuscripts, published as Mathematical Theory of Compressible Fluid Flow. After her retirement in 1959, she continued to revise her husband's earlier works and to write her own articles, several of which supported her controversial view of probability theory (as a science based on observable phenomena rather than an extension of mathematical set theory). In 1964, she published a revised edition of von Mises' Mathematical Theory of Probability and Statistics, in which she removed an inconsistency present in the original work.

Late in her career, Geiringer was recognized by her alma mater, the University of Vienna, with a special ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of her graduation. The University of Berlin, her former employer, made her a professor emeritus in 1956, and Wheaton awarded her an honorary degree in 1960.

Beyond her chosen field of mathematics, Geiringer was an avid mountain climber and also enjoyed literature and classical music. She died just six months short of her 80th birthday, while visiting her brother Karl, a noted musicologist, in Santa Barbara, California.

sources:

Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Healers and Scientists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

collections:

Hilda Geiringer's papers are in the Harvard University Archives at Harvard University and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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