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A History of the Mathematics Department at
Virginia Tech: 1872 - 1995

Chapter 3
The Burruss Years; Leading Up to World War II

President Burruss remained as president of VPI for 25 years. During this time there were many changes and much growth in student enrollments, in the faculty and in the physical plant. Actually Burruss made most of his major changes in his first eight years of office, beginning with an administrative reorganization.

Entrance requirements were raised at this time to bring the academic standards of the College up to those of nationally recognized colleges. Another change was the introduction of letter grades and the forerunner of the present day credit system using credit hours and quality credits. Also at this time, women were admitted to all departments except military.

In 1921, the Mathematics Department consisted of the three professors, Williams, Brodie and O'Shaughnessy, along with two assistants and two student assistants. At this time, algebra and trigonometry were reduced to two quarters each, analytic geometry was changed to one six-hour and one three-hour course, calculus was changed to three three-hour courses in the sophomore and junior years, and differential equations continued as a three-hour course. In addition, a three quarter sequence in advanced mathematics was introduced at the senior level. This was an elective beyond the required courses, and it covered selections from: advanced trigonometry, elliptic functions, hyperbolic functions, mean values, Fourier series, vectors, least squares, empirical curves, and transcendental equations. The Graduate Mathematics course continued to be offered.

Harry Gudheim Henry Rasche
from left, Harry Gudheim and Henry Rasche

The following year Harry Gudheim became an associate professor in the Mathematics Department. Prior to this he had been a member of the Graphics Department. He held an electrical engineering degree from the Royal University of Technology in Sweden, and came to the United States originally to work for a steam pump company. He would continue as professor in the Department for many years, becoming Acting Head during the years from 1932 to 1943.

Gudheim and Henry (Bosco) Rasche, who was the Head of the Graphics Department, were two of the most colorful professors of their time, and alumni from the 1910-1945 era can still recite anecdotes about them. When Gudheim came to Mathematics from Graphics, these two were still under the same roof, since Graphics occupied the second floor of the First Academic Building and Mathematics occupied the first floor (with the print shop in the basement).

At this time a three quarter sequence in business mathematics was introduced. It contained topics from algebra along with simple and compound interest, depreciation, sinking funds, amortization and similar topics. This course for students in the Business curriculum continued with little change in content until the early 1960s.

When Williams became Dean of the College in 1924, he continued to teach a mathematics class, usually the senior level advanced mathematics. He would come from the Administration Building to the First Academic Building to teach the class three times a week. Colonel Brodie (he used his military title) became the Acting Head of the Department and continued until his death in 1932, at which time Gudheim became Acting Head.

T. Watkins Hatcher Aneurin V. Morris
from left, T. Watkins Hatcher and Aneurin V. Morris

Also in 1924, T. Watkins (Inky) Hatcher joined the Department as Instructor, and was joined the following year by Aneurin (Nye) Morris, Henry C. Ahalt and F. S. Glassett. These four people became assistant professors in 1926. The Department that year consisted of eight professors and three assistants. Hatcher and Morris ultimately became full professors and remained in the Department for 40 years. Hatcher was the Department Head between 1944 and 1963, and Morris was Director of Registration and Director of the Summer School Session between 1948 and 1965.

Things remained rather unchanged in the Mathematics Department from this time until the death of Brodie in 1932. Slight changes in the faculty during these years included O'Shaughnessy becoming Acting Dean of the School of Engineering during 1928-29, and Hatcher going on leave in 1929 to earn his doctorate from Cornell in 1931.

The one quarter advanced calculus course at this time was a very applied course, and in 1936 it was replaced by a two quarter course titled applied calculus. An advanced differential equations course was added in 1932, but it also was changed in 1936 to applied differential equations. One quarter graduate level courses in circuit analysis and Fourier series were also added in 1932.

In 1937, the graduate mathematics course was expanded to three semesters, and included the topics: determinants, line integrals, infinite series, vectors, probability, and complex variables. A course in mathematical statistics was offered the following year and was taught by Boyd Harshbarger, who would later become Head of the Statistics Department.

Due to the depression, in 1932 the Virginia General Assembly cut the College's appropriations by 7.5 per cent and salaries by 10 per cent. However, VPI was still able to grow during the 1930s. Enrollment nearly doubled during this decade, starting from about 1650 students in 1930. The faculty in Mathematics increased from 9 positions and 4 assistants in 1930 to 18 (including 10 instructors) in 1940. Several new buildings were built during this decade through loans from the depression-born Public Works Administration.

The standard teaching load during the 1930s was 15 credit hours a week, and often faculty would have to teach 18 hours. This 15-hour teaching load continued until the mid 1960s when the standard teaching load was reduced to 12 hours, with those engaged in research teaching 6 hours.

Alice Pletta was the first woman on the faculty of the Mathematics Department. She came in 1939, and continued to teach math courses for 30 years. Another person who joined the Department just before the United States entered World War II was Leonard McFadden who had received his doctorate from Brown. Until the 1960s, he would be the only faculty member of the Department who had published research. His paper in the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, based on his dissertation, was a very well cited reference for many mathematicians. McFadden would become the mainstay of the department between the mid 1940s and the mid 1960s, teaching many of the upper level courses and later the graduate courses.

The War in Europe was felt on campus and in the Mathematics Department as early as 1940. At this time about 500 VPI students were registered for the draft. Only juniors and seniors enrolled in ROTC were exempt from registering. Also three reserve army officers from the Department, Ahalt, Tyler and White, were called to active duty. Others from the Department who subsequently received leaves of absence for military service were Addington, Barnwell, Harr, Hill, Horne and Rollins.

From the entry of the United States into World War II until the war ended, the College included a full quarter session in the summer in order to allow students to graduate in three years instead of four.

During the winter of 1943 most of the junior and senior classes of cadets were called to active duty. Enrollment of regular students dropped to 738 in the 1944-45 year. However, VPI did not have to shut down because it had been selected for the Army Specialized Training Program to train Army engineers. There was also a small naval pre-flight training unit. In all there were about two thousand servicemen on campus during these years.

The Mathematics Department was affected by these changes in a two ways. There were some specialized courses in applied mathematics that needed to be offered to the servicemen. Also the Department had a shortage of faculty (whereas some departments had a surplus of faculty), so that several faculty members from other departments were given an indoctrination and taught mathematics.

Dean Williams, who was still Department Head, died in 1943. At that time Harry Gudheim was Acting Department Head, but he had to retire the same year because of disability. Hatcher was appointed Acting Head, and the following year became the permanent Head of the Department. Hatcher entered Virginia Tech as a student in 1918, and his classmates in the Corp of Cadets started calling him "Incubator" Hatcher. This was later shortened to "Inky" and the nickname stuck.

Soon after Hatcher became Head of the Mathematics Department, Boyd Harshbarger established the sub-department of Statistics under the Department of Agricultural Economics. This became the Department of Statistics in 1948, offering graduate degrees in statistics.

In June of 1944, the legal name of the College became Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and the "Agricultural and Mechanical College" was dropped. In addition, Radford State Teacher's College was merged with VPI and became Radford College, the Women's Division of VPI. This merger lasted until 1964 when the growth of both schools required that they become separate institutions again.

By 1945, Burruss had been president for 25 years. Because of his age and all the pressures of the job, he was given a six month leave of absence in January of that year. Six days later he was in an automobile accident and fractured a vertebra. The Director of the Agricultural Extension Service, John R. Hutcheson, assumed the duties of the presidency. Later that year the Board of Visitors elected him as Tech's ninth president. After a year and a half, in December 1946, Hutcheson was granted a sick leave, and Walter S. Newman became Acting President. Prior to this Newman was the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and had become the Vice-president of VPI in February of 1946, in a newly established position.

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Last Modified on: Tuesday, 25-Sep-2001 08:16:03 EDT