W E Story's American Academy of Arts and Sciences Obituary

An obituary of William Edward Story written by Fabian Franklin was published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1936. The reference is: F Franklin, William Edward Story (1850-1930), Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 70 (10) (1936), 578-580. We give a version below:


Fellow in Class I, Section 1, 1876

William E Story was born in Boston on April 29, 1850, the son of Isaac and Elizabeth Story. He did distinguished and important work in several of the most recondite departments of pure mathematics, and was one of the pioneers in the establishment of high standards of mathematical research and mathematical education in the universities of this country. He graduated as A.B. at Harvard University in 1871, and was Parker Fellow there in 1874-75; from 1871 to 1875, he pursued mathematical studies at the Universities of Berlin and Leipzig, receiving the degree of Ph.D. at Leipzig in 1875; in 1875-76 he was Tutor in Mathematics at Harvard. Upon the opening of Johns Hopkins University in 1876, Story was appointed Associate (and shortly after Assistant Professor and Associate Professor) in Mathematics. In this capacity, he was the chief representative at Johns Hopkins of the methods and ideals of modern higher mathematics as cultivated in the universities of Continental Europe; for Sylvester, though a great mathematical genius, and a most inspiring personality, was quite unfamiliar with the mighty advances that were being made by the mathematicians of Germany, France and Italy.

It was at Johns Hopkins that the first impulse was given to any systematic development of mathematical research in this country; and when Clark University was opened in 1889, its President, Stanley Hall, invited Story to be the head of its mathematical department, with a view to carrying out, in an even more intensive way, the purposes which animated the mathematical faculty at Johns Hopkins. How faithfully and enthusiastically Story devoted himself to this task may be seen from the Report on the first ten years of the Department of Mathematics in the Decennial Celebration volume issued by Clark University in 1899 - a Report which, though written by Story, gives more generous space to the researches of the Assistant Professor, Henry Taber, than to his own. How extensive and varied, as well as profound, were Story's researches, may be seen from a glance at the titles of his numerous papers; the mention of a few of them must here suffice:

On the Theory of Rational Derivation on a Cubic Curve (Amer. Jour. of Math., 1880)

On the Non-Euclidean Geometry (Ibid., 1882)

A New Method in Analytic Geometry (Ibid., 1887)

On the Co variants of a System of Quantics (Mathematische Annalen, 1893)

New General Theory of Errors (Proc. Amer. Acad. of Arts and Sei., 1904)

Partial Pressures in Liquid Mixtures (Philos. Magazine, 1910).

Mention of the last-named paper is a reminder that Story, though chiefly interested in the problems of pure mathematics, was also interested in its application to physics. He also took a deep interest in the history of mathematics; and it may be added that he had a somewhat unusual penchant for puzzles which are interesting from a mathematical point of view.

As regards the training of students of the higher mathematics, and the bearing of that training upon the advancement of other sciences, Story states his views in the Clark Decennial volume, in a most vigorous and effective way; we see that, but for the want of means, what he would have built up at Clark University would have been just such an institution as is now being developed at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, with Einstein as head of the department of mathematics.

Story was editor in charge of the American Journal of Mathematics from 1878 to 1882, editor of the Mathematical Review, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was head of the Department of Mathematics at Clark University from its foundation until he retired as Emeritus Professor in 1921. He was happy in his marriage as in his work; his wife, whom he married in 1878, was Miss Mary D Harrison of Baltimore. She and their only child, William E Story, Jr., survive him. He died of pneumonia, after a very brief illness, April 10, 1930, having fulfilled, throughout a long life, the ideals of a devoted teacher and a single-minded lover of scientific truth and progress.

Fabian Franklin.

JOC/EFR May 2019

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