# William D. Cairns Papers, 1899-1955 | Oberlin College Archives

Born in Troy, Ohio, on November 2, 1871, the son of Samuel A. and Mary Brook Cairns, William graduated with an A.B. degree in 1892 from Ohio Wesleyan, Delaware, Ohio; and received his second A.B. (1897) and an A.M. (1898) degree from Harvard University. His Ph.D. degree in mathematics was earned from the University of Gottingen, Germany in 1907, having studied under Hilbert, Klein, and other well-known mathematicians.

Cairns’ teaching career spanned four decades. From 1894 to 1896 Cairns was an instructor at the Troy High School, Troy, Ohio, and from 1898 to 1899 he taught at a high school in Calumet, Michigan. In 1899 he came to Oberlin as an instructor in Mathematics and Surveying. Although he was twice recruited early in his career by the University of Michigan, he remained at Oberlin, eventually becoming a full professor. He was named head of the Department of Mathematics in 1920 and served in this capacity until his retirement in 1939.

A commitment to the teaching of collegiate mathematics led Cairns to be active in professorial circles. In 1916, when the Mathematical Association of America was organized to deal with some of the problems in this discipline, Cairns became the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Association. He was also a representative of the Mathematical Association on the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for nearly twenty years. He was elected Vice President in 1938. He was named president of the Mathematical Association in 1943. Subsequently, he was made an honorary President for his many contributions to the teaching of math and service to the organization.

Cairns, who taught mechanical drawing, descriptive geometry, and surveying statistics at Oberlin College, had as his research specialty the investigation of regular convex and star-shaped polygons as well as the history of mathematics itself. As a scholar, he contributed to the *Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society* (as writer and member of the editorial board), the *American Mathematical Monthly*, *Science*, *School and Society, and Mathematical Teacher*. He held a number of summer teaching appointments, including UCLA and the University of New Mexico.

He married Iva M. Crofoot (b. 1875) on August 25, 1898. The first Mrs. Cairns taught Mathematics at the Oberlin Academy from 1902-1903, and later became Directory of Home Economics at Oberlin High School. This union produced two children; daughter Mary Catherine and son Robert William. His second marriage to (Mrs.) Bertha Pope (d. 1964), Oberlin Class of 1930, took place in Oberlin on June 17, 1930. She had been head of Cranford Hall. Professor Cairns was fond of the outdoors, and he played golf at the Oberlin Golf Club. He died on July 15, 1955, in Pasadena, California, at the age of 83.

Author: Roland M. BaumannW.D. Cairns faculty folder in RG 28.

The Oberlin College Library holds Cairns' doctoral dissertation *Die anwendung der Integralgleichungen auf die zweite Variation bei isoperimetrischen Problemen* (Gottingen: Kaestner, 1907) on integral calculus.

Consists of five record series: Biographical File, 1899-1955; Correspondence, 1930-38; Field Notebooks, Aug. 4, 1899-Oct. 16, 1923 (No. 1-7); Miscellaneous File, 1900-1930s, n.d.; and, Writings File, 1919-35, n.d. The most important series is represented by the seven volumes of field notebooks covering surveys of properties in Oberlin, including those in and around the College campus and those properties on Edgemere and Reamer Streets. A great many of the pages are vacant.

The 1930-38 correspondence, numbering only ten items, largely relates to his work as Secretary-Treasurer of the American Mathematical Society. Probably the most significant letter, dated Dec. 1, 1934, is from R.H. Stetson in which he discusses instruction and the uses of "'demonstration' material in college teaching." Two folders of documents constitute miscellaneous material withdrawn from the field books. The "Writings File" contains reprints of several of Cairns' articles in mathematical journals.

Finally, the Biographical File constitutes the least important series unit. It should be supplemented by reading Cairns' staff folder in the Alumni Records (28/3).

**INVENTORY**

**Series 1. Biographical File**

Box 1

Biographical File, 1899-1955

**Series 2. Correspondence File**

Box 1 (cont.)

Correspondence File, 1930-1938

**Series 3. Field Notebooks**

Box 1 (cont.)

Field Notebooks, 1899-1923 (3f)

**Series 4. Miscellaneous Files**

Box 1 (cont.)

Miscellaneous Files, 1900s-1930s,

n.d. (2f)

**Series 5. Writings File**

Box 1 (cont.)

"Advanced Preparatory Mathematics in

England, France and Italy," *American*

*Mathematical Monthly* vol. XLII, no. 1

(January 1935): 17-34

"Certain Properties of Binomial Coefficients,"

*Bulletin of the American Mathematical*

* Society* 2d Series, vol. XXVI, no. 4 (January

1920): 160-64

"A Derivation of the Equation of the Normal

Probability Curve," *Bulletin of the American*

* Mathematical Society* 2d Series, vol. XXVI,

no. 3 (December 1919): 105-108

"Development of Functions in a System of

Approximately Orthogonal Functions," *Annals*

* of Mathematics* 2d Series, vol. 28, no. 4

(September 1927): 503-14

"Functions of Closest Approximation on an Infinite

Range," *The American Mathematical Monthly*

vol. XXXIII, no. 8 (October 1927): 406-409

"Mathematics a Tool Subject—And Much More,"

* School and Society* vol. 35, no. 901

(April 2, 1932): 1-3

"Napier: On the Table of Logarithms" (selections

made by W. D. Cairns), n.d.

"The Training of Teachers of Mathematics with Special

Reference to the Relation of Mathematics to

Modern Thought," *The Mathematics Teacher*

(May 1931): 269-76