Thomas Hewitt Key was born in London on 20 March 1799. He was the youngest son of a London physician, and half-brother of Charles Aston Key, an eminent surgeon. Key was sent to the Rev. Samuel Dewe's School at Buntingford in Hertfordshire, where he remained for nearly ten years. From there, he went to St. John's College, Cambridge, but moved to Trinity College after obtaining a scholarship. He took his degree in 1821 and was nineteenth wrangler on the Mathematical Tripos. Key was initially inclined to study law but, in accordance with his father's wishes, he began to prepare for the medical profession. He studied for nearly two years at Guy's Hospital in London, but in the summer of 1824, an agent from the State of Virginia came to England to choose four professors for the new University of Virginia and invited Key to accept the professorship of mathematics. (His relatively high score on the Tripos, was presumably viewed as sufficient to qualify him for the post.) Although Key had already opted to withdraw from the pursuit of science, he found, in his words, the "power to agree" to the University of Virginia's offer.
In Charlottesville, Key proved a great success as a teacher of mathematics. During the summer of 1825, moreover, he also taught ancient Greek and Latin, in the absence of the Professor of Ancient Languages. Key began the etymological study of the Latin language at this time that he would pursue until the end of his life.
Much to the dismay of the University community, Key left Charlottesville in 1827 due, most likely to the harshness of the climate. He returned to London, where he was appointed Professor of Latin at the newly founded University of London in 1828. In 1833, he was appointed co-headmaster of the University College School, a preparatory school associated with University College. In 1842, he gave up the professorship of Latin and took the professorship of comparative grammar, in addition to the headmastership. He held the latter position until his death in November 1875.
Key was also one of the founders of the London Library in St. James's Square and a member of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, an organization devoted to the education of the general public. For some years, he was President of the Philological Society of London.
Key's literary labors were numerous. Under the auspices of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, he made a map of ancient France (Gallia) accompanied by a one of the French provinces before 1789. He also wrote several articles for the Society's publications and contributed several articles, chiefly on language, to its Penny Cyclopaedia. In 1846, he published a Latin grammar text that long served the students of the University College School. Key's last work, on "Language, its Origin and Development," was published in 1874. He left an unfinished Latin dictionary at the time of his death.
The University of Virginia's second Professor of Mathematics, Charles Bonnycastle, was born in Woolwich, England on 22 November 1796. His father, John, was Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy there, and so Charles grew up and received his education in an environment that very much influenced his own subsequent career. The contributions that the son made to the thirteenth edition of his father's textbook, Introduction to Algebra (1824), in fact, augmented the credentials he presented to Francis Walker Gilmer, agent for the newly forming University of Virginia.
Bonnycastle actually came to the University at its opening in 1825 as the first professor, not of mathematics, but of natural philosophy (as physics was then called). When Thomas Key, the first Professor of Mathematics, resigned to return to his native England, Bonnycastle shifted over to the mathematical chair and remained in that post until his untimely death on 31 October 1840 at the age of only forty-three. "Old Bonny," as he was fondly called by the students, moved away from what was increasingly becoming the antiquated synthetic approach to mathematical pedagogy that had been so typical of Oxbridge mathematical teaching in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and introduced the more avant-garde analytic approach of late eighteenth-century French authors such as Silvestre Lacroix. In 1834, he published his own textbook, Inductive Geometry, in which he aimed to unite the best of the synthetic and the analytic approaches to geometry for the college- and university-level audience. Bonnycastle also contributed works on mathematical and physical topics to the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, one of the few venues available in early nineteenth-century America for the publication of original work in the sciences.
The photograph here is after the portrait of Bonnycastle painted by James W. Ford. Bonnycastle is buried in the University Cemetery at the corner of McCormick and Alderman Roads.
James Joseph Sylvester was born on 3 September 1814 into a Jewish family in London. After his early study at boarding schools in Highgate and Islington, he entered the University of London, in its first term in operation in 1828. There, Augustus De Morgan led the mathematics program. After only five months, Sylvester's relatives withdrew him from the institution owing to his apparent immaturity for university life. Sylvester returned to college in 1831, this time at St. John's College, Cambridge. Although he attained the outstanding distinction of Second Wrangler on the Mathematical Tripos in 1837, he was barred from receiving his degree and from competing for a fellowship or a professorship at Cambridge. This resulted from his inability to subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, a requirement of all who presented themselves for degrees or for positions at Cambridge. (At Oxford, subscription was required before a student was even allowed to matriculate.) Sylvester did win the professorship of natural philosophy in 1838 at non-sectarian University College London. In 1841, he was awarded an M.A. from Trinity College, Dublin.
Dissatisfied with his teaching duties in the chair of natural philosophy, Sylvester left England for Charlottesville in 1841. In November of that year, he assumed the University's professorship of mathematics, a post left vacant at Charles Bonnycastle's death. Although anti-Semitic articles in Richmond newspapers preceded his arrival, Sylvester was greeted warmly by the University community . His contentment at the university was short-lived, however. Unruly students in his courses and the faculty's unwillingness to exact the punishment demanded by Sylvester for one Mr. Ballard caused his resignation from the University, effective in March 1842. (Sylvester insisted upon expulsion and the faculty would only support a reprimand, given the recent history of student unrest on the Grounds.) "Such were the accidents that accompanied the avoidable loss to the University of Virginia of one of the most extraordinary mathematicians of modern times" [1, 77].
After trying unsuccessfully to secure positions at Columbia, Harvard, and elsewhere in the United States, Sylvester returned to London eventually to became an actuary and secretary at Equity and Law Life Assurance Company for ten years beginning in 1845. During this period, he met Arthur Cayley, who would become a mathematical catalyst and lifelong friend.
By 1850, Sylvester had "exploded onto the mathematical scene, reaching new heights of productivity and creativity" [2, 66]. In 1850 and 1851, drawing from his prior work on determinants and on the theory of forms, he synthesized in a series of twenty papers his ideas and the results of others into what would later be recognized as invariant theory. He spent the rest of his actuarial career further developing this theory with Cayley.
Sylvester returned to academia in 1855, becoming Professor of Mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, England. Although his achievements were highly recognized by the mathematical community during his years at Woolwich, Sylvester did not find his duties at the Academy conducive to his research. "[H]e taught drudgerous mathematics to mostly uncaring students and fought with the military authorities over teaching loads destined, he was convinced, to bring the 'extinction of my scientific existence' " [4, 210]. In the late 1860s, the situation had gotten so dire that he wrote to Cayley that "I have done no mathematics--ever intending and ever putting it off. . . . If I thought it would do any good I would ask you to pray for my rescue from this enslaving indolence and paralysis of the will for such it amounts to" [3, 131-132].
After being forced into an early retirement from the Academy in 1870, Sylvester spent six years adrift in London, occupying his time primarily by composing poetry. In 1876, however, his luck changed, and he crossed the Atlantic once more to establish the mathematics program at the newly opened Johns Hopkins University. His professorship there "marked the beginning of a quarter-century-long process of establishing mathematics at the research level in the United States" [4, 218] and reinvigorated his study of invariants. In particular, he crafted America's first true graduate program in mathematics, guided nine students in their doctoral research, and made major advances in invariant theory, combinatorics, and the theory of matrix algebras.
Seven years later, Sylvester traveled back to England to assume the Savilian Chair of Geometry at New College, Oxford, a position which, after the 1871 repeal of the religious restrictions, was finally open to him. He tried to build a school of mathematical research at Oxford like the one he had animated at Hopkins, but his efforts were premature. As he put it in a letter to Hopkins President, Daniel Coit Gilman, in March of 1887: "It seems to me that Mathematical science here is doomed and must eventually fall off like a withered branch from a Tree which derives no nutriment from its roots" [3, 264].
Failing health and eyesight caused Sylvester to step down officially from his chair in 1894. He died in London on 15 March 1897, one of England's nineteenth-century mathematical luminaries.
Edward Courtenay was born on 19 November 1803 in Baltimore, Maryland. His youth was distinguished by remarkably precocious academic performance. Entering the United States Military Academy in 1818 as the youngest cadet to enter since its founding in 1802, he graduated at the head of his class after only three years (the course usually took four). He was immediately appointed to a teaching post at his alma mater. During the next few years, he held a number of assistant professorial positions, before obtaining the professorship of natural and experimental philosophy in February 1829. While in this position, which primarily involved teaching applied mathematics to engineers, he published An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics (1833), a translation of a work in French by Jean-Louis Boucharlat.
In 1834, Courtenay was offered and accepted the chair of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania. He held this post for two years before making a career change; he became a professional engineer. Working first for the New York and Erie Railroad, he next served as a civil engineer at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor between 1837 and 1841 and finally took over as chief engineer of the Dry Dock Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York. After less than a year in the latter position, he re-entered academe, taking the chair of mathematics at the University of Virginia that Sylvester's hasty and unexpected departure had left vacant.
Courtenay's tenure at Virginia was, in contrast to that of his predecessor, a resounding success. He was described as a model professor: "He never by look, act, word, or emphasis disparaged the efforts or undervalued the acquirements of his pupils. His pleasant smile and kind voice, when he would say, 'Is that answer perfectly correct?' gave hope to many minds struggling with science" [1, vi-vii]. His premature death on 21 December 1853 thus came as a great shock to colleagues and students alike.
Courtenay left as his principal scientific legacy A Treatise on the Differential and Integral Calculus, and on the Calculus of Variations (1855), the manuscript of which was largely complete at the time of his death. This book ran to several editions over the next twenty years and was in its day the most comprehensive American work on the subject. The University acknowledged Courtenay's contributions by naming a dormitory in the Alderman Road complex in his honor.
The epitome of an unreconstructed Southerner, Albert Bledsoe was born in Kentucky on 9 November 1809, the eldest son of Moses Ousley Bledsoe and Sophia Childress Taylor, a relation of Zachary Taylor. Bledsoe studied at the United States Military Academy, where he was a fellow student of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and graduated in 1830. His first posting was as a lieutenant in the 7-th Infantry stationed along the western frontier. Resigning his post in 1832, he headed east to study law, theology, and philosophy at Kenyon College in Ohio, where from 1833 to 1834 he held the posts of Professor of Mathematics and Instructor of French. In 1835, he became Professor of Mathematics at Miami University, but three years later, he moved to Springfield, Illinois to become a lawyer. While there, he practiced in the same courts as Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
In 1848, Bledsoe was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of Mississippi, a chair he resigned in 1854 for the one left vacant at the University of Virginia by the death of Edward Courtenay. While at Virginia, he wrote "An Essay on Liberty and Slavery" (1856), in which he justified secession as a constitutional right and slavery as a moral right sanctioned by the Bible. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he resigned his chair and joined the Confederate Army at the rank of colonel. Bledsoe was soon appointed Assistant Secretary of War by Jefferson Davis and so saw little action on the battlefield. He was sent to London for the purpose of researching various historical problems relating to the North-South conflict, as well as of guiding British public opinion in favor of the Confederate cause.
When he returned from Britain in February of 1865, the war was almost over. Nevertheless, the volume that resulted from his research, Is Davis a Traitor? Or Was Secession a Constitutional Right Previous to the War of 1861? (1866), formed the basis of much of the case for the defense in Davis's trial immediately after the war.
In 1867, Bledsoe founded the Southern Review, serving as editor and dominant contributor for the next ten years. He thus spent the rest of his life engaged in the publication of articles and reviews in justification of the old, unreconstructed Southern attitudes. He dedicated the journal to "the despised, disenfranchised, and down-trodden people of the South" [1, 365]. As he said in an editorial on the question of abandoning the Southern cause, "[w]e would rather die" [1, 365]. This he did at Alexandria, Virginia on 8 December 1877.
Charles Scott Venable was born on 19 April 1827 in Prince Edward County, Virginia at Longwood, a home known for culture, hospitality, and wholesome outdoor life. His father, Nathaniel Venable, was one of the founders of Hampden-Sydney College, and from 1839 to 1845, Charles studied and then tutored there. In June of 1845, he began studies at the University of Virginia, but spent only one session here before taking a professorship of mathematics back at Hampden-Sydney. He stayed in that post for one year but was granted a leave of absence to return to the University of Virginia. During the 1847-1848 session, he resumed the work he had begun under the supervision of Edward Courtenay in mathematics, in addition to studying chemistry, natural philosophy, and modern languages. He returned to his Hampden-Sydney professorship in the fall of 1848. Four years later, he was given a second leave of absence to further his studies in Germany. He attended the lectures of the great astronomer, Johann Franz Encke, in Berlin, and Friedrich Argelander in Bonn as well as those of the brilliant young analyst, Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet and of the physicist, Heinrich Wilhelm Dove.
After returning to the U.S. in December of 1853, Venable held successive professorships at Hampden-Sydney, the University of Georgia, and the University of South Carolina. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he promptly volunteered and served from the bombardment of Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox. The close of the Civil War saw Venable's return to his real life's work.
In 1865 he was invited to fill the chair of mathematics at the University of Virginia that he held for the remainder of his active life. He was elected Chair of the Faculty for the years 1870-1873 and 1886-1888. As a teacher, he possessed an instinctive comprehension of the individual needs of his students, and he made the School of Mathematics one of the largest and most highly respected in the University.
As a part of the post-war endeavor to provide textbooks for use in the South, Venable prepared a number of texts in mathematics. He compiled a complete series of treatises in pure mathematics that covered the full range of his University coursework. This series included: First Lessons in Numbers--A Primary Arithmetic: Combining Mental and Slate Exercises (1870); Higher Arithmetic for Advanced Students (1871); An Elementary Algebra . . . (1872); Teacher's Manual of Venable's New Practical Arithmetic . . . (1892); A Key Containing Solutions of the More Difficult Examples in Venable's Practical and Mental Arithmetic (1893); Mental Arithmetic Containing Oral Exercises in Abstract and Commercial Arithmetic (1894); An Easy Algebra for Beginners; Being a Simple, Plain Presentation of the Essentials of Elementary Algebra . . . (1895); Elementary Arithmetic (1896); Practical Arithmetic (1902); and High School Algebra . . . (1904). He also published a translation and adaptation of Legendre's Elements of Geometry (1910). In addition to the long series of mathematical textbooks, he published a number of articles, among them, "An Address Delivered before the Society of Alumni of the University of Virginia . . . July 26, 1858" (1859); "The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg. Address . . . before the Virginia Division of the Army of Northern Virginia . . . Oct. 30, 1873" (1879); and "Report of Prof. C. S. Venable on the Total Eclipse of July 18, 1860 in Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey . . . 1860" (1861).
Compelled by ill health to retire from active service in 1896, Venable was made Professor Emeritus. He died on 11 August 1900.
William Holding Echols was born 2 December 1859 in San Antonio, Texas. He received early private school educational training from the University of the South (in Sewanee, Tennessee) and the Episcopal High School of Virginia (in Alexandria). He earned both a Bachelor of Science and a civil engineering degree from the University of Virginia in 1882. After serving as an engineer for several railroad and mining companies, Echols accepted an engineering professorship, and later the directorship, at the Missouri School of Mines. He married Mary Elizabeth Blakey in September 1885, and they had five children before her death in 1894.
In 1891, Echols moved to Charlottesville to become an Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at the University. Besides introducing mechanical engineering to the University's curriculum, Echols served as the buildings and grounds supervisor. He aptly filled the latter role during the Rotunda fire of 1895. Armed with dynamite, Echols twice tried to separate the Rotunda from the burning Annex. After his attempt from the ground failed, he climbed to the top of the dome. He threw his explosives into the fire, causing an explosion heard fifteen miles away! Although the plan was not successful, the people of Charlottesville applauded the effort. He became a Full Professor of Mathematics in 1895. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Mitchell Harrison, with whom he also had five children.
In mathematics, Echols wrote Elementary Textbook on the Differential and Integral Calculus (1902). For the University community, he composed and delivered lectures on "The Infinite Mystery" (1912), "Truth" (1913), and "The Eleventh Commandment" (1914), all of which concerned philosophical issues and the Honor Code.
Echols, nicknamed "Reddy" on account of his red hair, became a fixture in the University. He gave the annual address on the honor system to the first year students and was active in Eli Banana, the first of the University's social organizations known as "ribbon" societies. Echols died of a heart attack on 25 September 1934 at his home on the East Lawn.
In 1960, the University's Echols Scholars Program was begun in his name. He is buried in the University Cemetery, behind Echols House, a McCormick Road residence hall.
James Page was born in Cobham, Albemarle County, Virginia on 4 March 1864. His father, Thomas Walker Page, and his mother, Nancy Watson Morris, were both members of the "First Families of Virginia." Page's ancestor, Colonel John Page, for example, came to Virginia in 1650 and subsequently served as a member of His Majesty's Council in the colony. After home-schooling from his father, James earned his Master's degree at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland in 1885. By 1887, he had traveled to the University of Leipzig and had completed a doctoral dissertation on the theory of transformation groups in four-space under the direction of the noted Norwegian mathematician, Sophus Lie.
At this point in the history of American mathematics, it was usual for students desirous of advanced training in mathematics to travel abroad since the United States could offer no comparable training following Sylvester's departure from The Johns Hopkins University in 1883. What was much less usual, however, was the fact that Page was able to complete his Leipzig dissertation in only two years. In his written assessment of Page's thesis, Lie stated categorically that the "work deals with and resolves an important and rather difficult problem in the theory of continuous transformation groups," a theory that Lie was still in the process of developing [2, 236]. While he also acknowledged that Page "was largely shown a way that offered good prospects for success," Lie felt that "the task of carrying the entire investigation through required not only considerable energy but also a significant amount of finesse in dealing with the computational techniques" and that "[t]he work must therefore be regarded as a true scientific accomplishment" [2, 236]. Lie was not known for showering faint praise. He thus clearly viewed Page's work as a valuable, original research contribution. Page published his research as "On the Primitive Groups of Transformations in Space of Four Dimensions" in the American Journal of Mathematics in 1888.
Page returned to Virginia, doctorate in hand, and held the headmastership of the Keswick School, a local private school, from 1888 to 1895. He had already begun his association with the University of Virginia by 1893, however, reporting in the Bulletin of the New York Mathematical Society that he was President of its Mathematical Club . The year 1895-1896 found Page back in Europe--in Leipzig and Paris--working on the final touches of what would be his 1897 book, Ordinary Differential Equations: An Elementary Text Book with an Introduction to Lie's Theory of the Group of One Parameter. This book was one of the first texts in English aimed at providing an entrée into Lie's notoriously complicated theory.
Page returned to the United States early in 1896 and lectured on his work as a Fellow by Courtesy, that is, what would today be termed a "visitor," at The Johns Hopkins University. Also in 1896, he became an associate editor of the Annals of Mathematics when its founder-editor, the University of Virginia astronomer, Ormond Stone, relinquished the editorship. At this time, Page was also appointed Adjunct Professor of Mathematics at Virgina. By the time the Annals moved to Harvard in 1899 and Page stepped down as associate editor, he had already served one year as an Associate Professor in the Virginia department, a promotion that had no doubt resulted from the publication of his book manuscript. On 26 July 1900, Page married Elinore Mildred McGlone; their son, James Morris Page, Jr., was born on 18 July 1901. Also in 1901, Page became Professor of Mathematics, the post he held until his retirement in 1934.
During his tenure at the University, Page became very active both in University governance and in general educational issues. He served as Dean of the Faculty from 1900 to 1902, as Chair of the Faculty from 1903 to 1904, and as a member of the State Board of Education of Virginia from 1910 to 1927. Page died in 1936. A dormitory in the McCormick Road complex is named in his honor.