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About Mary P. Dolciani


Over the years, a number of students and teachers have contacted the Center asking for information about Mary P. Dolciani. Mary was someone with whom I had the privilege to work when I was a student at Hunter College in the early 70's. Later, I was hired to work in the Center that she had started. Her enthusiasm for mathematics, her love of life and her concern for her students serve as a constant inspiration for me and for all who knew her. If you ever visit New York, feel free to stop by the Dolciani Mathematics Learning Center at Hunter College (Silverstein Student Success Center on the 7th floor of Hunter East). I hope that the information below will help you in your search for knowledge of her.


Barbara Barone
The Mary P. Dolciani Mathematics Learning Center of Hunter College, CUNY

Mary P. Dolciani

The following information is reprinted with permission from the Hunter Magazine, Volume 5 Number 2, Fall 1986.

Mary P. Dolciani received her BA from Hunter College and joined the Hunter faculty in 1955. She served as chairperson of the mathematics department and as provost at Hunter, and in 1974 became dean for academic development at the City University of New York. In 1980 she returned to teach at Hunter, continuing until illness forced her to stop.

Mary P. Dolciani (as she was known professionally) published a series of mathematics textbooks that have been translated into French and Spanish and have sold more than 50 million copies around the world. Many mathematics students in this country, and many in dozens of other countries, recognize the name Dolciani immediately.

At a memorial service held at Hunter last May, Eileen L. Poiani, professor of mathematics at St. Peter's College in Jersey City, New Jersey, presented a tribute to Professor Dolciani. Here are some excerpts from that tribute:

If I were limited to just one word to describe Dr. Mary Patricia Dolciani, that word would be "enthusiastic". [She had] enthusiasm for her discipline of mathematics, for teaching, for writing, for research, and for life - an enthusiasm that was evident when she spoke and that jumped off every page of her textbooks...

Having received her PhD from Cornell University where she was a Erastus Brooks fellow and an Olmsted fellow, she pursued further study at Oxford University in England and at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. She also worked for the U.S. Government on classified projects at Fort Monmouth during World War II.

But Mary was probably most at home in the classroom, where she was a "Master Teacher". In her forty-two years of teaching, two at Vassar College and forty at her alma mater, Hunter College, Professor Dolciani was both a teacher of undergraduate students and a teacher of teachers. She developed the first multi-media mathematics learning laboratory in the City University system, a laboratory which is still thriving today. She directed many National Science Foundation institutes and New York State Education Department institutes for mathematics teachers. A very active member of the School Mathematics Study Group, Professor Dolciani took the lead in developing new curricula for secondary school mathematics.

Although teaching was her first love, she also wore the administrative hats of Department Chairman and Provost [at Hunter] and Dean for Academic Development at The City University of New York. She served on the U.S. Commission on Mathematical Instruction, a Commission of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. She served the Mathematical Association of America with distinction as a member of the Board of Governors and as a member of the Committee on Publications.

Mary was special - not only in her singular mathematical accomplishments, but in the fact that she belonged to a small, select group of women in mathematics. Mary's mother, to whom she was devoted, and her father were committed to encouraging their daughter to advance and achieve. This was not common at the time, as reflected in the low numbers of women that traditionally have entered the field of mathematics.

To encourage more young women to study mathematics in high school in order to keep their career doors open, the Mathematical Association of America in 1975 initiated a secondary school lectureship program. I became the founding director and soon after called Mary to ask her if she would be willing to be a speaker for "Women and Mathematics" program...She did a number of lectures, addressing students as well as orientation programs for our speakers, she never accepted an honorarium. She was the perfect role model...

Through Mary's kindness and generosity, we shall continue to remember her tremendous impact on millions of students across the country and on the professional mathematics community... through the Dolciani Mathematical Expositions, a series of the Mathematical Association of America. Professor Dolciani had been contemplating ways of furthering the ideal of excellence in mathematical exposition. At about the same time, the MAA received a collection of expository essays which did not fit precisely into any existing series. Professor Dolciani elected to implement her goal by establishing a revolving fund to initiate [a new series], which was then named in her honor. The series is comprehensible to the talented high school student yet also challenging to the more advanced mathematician...

In her memory, the Houghton-Mifflin Company made a gift to the Mathematics Education Trust of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. This will establish a fund to make grants to high school teachers in order to improve the quality of teaching mathematics.

Mary shall also be remembered by future generations in another special way. On your next visit to Washington DC, you may wish to visit the Dolciani Mathematical Center, the headquarters of the MAA. On the occasion of the 1979 formal dedication of this building, Mary remarked that she wanted the building [to be] a living tribute to her father, an immigrant to this country who died at a young age and had struggled to provide for her education. Dr. Dolciani's books often started with a set of axioms or self-evident truths. As an axiom for us, I would say that whether you knew her as Dr. Dolciani, Professor Dolciani, Mrs. Halloran, or simply, Mary, your life, like mine, has no doubt been enriched by touching hers.

Additional sources of information:
(1) American Men of Science, A Biographical Directory; The Science Press; Lancaster, Pennsylvania (she is listed)
(4) Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, 222 Berkley Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116-3764 (You may want a copy of their poster Numbers Count to Everyone which includes info on several noted mathematicians and scientists including her).