Agnes Scott College

Edna Kramer Lassar

May 11, 1902 - July 9, 1984

Written by Jennifer Long, Class of 2000 (Agnes Scott College)

Edna Ernestine Kramer was born in Manhattan on May 11, 1902. She was the first child of two Jewish immigrants, Joseph Kramer and Sabine Elowitch Kramer. Edna Kramer was named after her Uncle, Edward, who had a gift for math. He longed to be an engineer, but he died too early to achieve his goal. Edna Kramer wanted to carry out his desire to excel in mathematics, so she decided to become a mathematician in his honor.

The Kramer family stressed the importance of education and excelling in it. Each child in the family was held to high standards. They excelled in school, received top honors, and became teachers. Not only did her parents play a large part in the excellence of Edna Kramer's educational career, but her Aunt Therese Elowitch and Cousin Josephine Schwartz challenged her as well. By the time she went to grade school, Edna had already studied higher level elementary school assignments that her cousin Josephine had brought home.

Edna's first desire was to be a German teacher, but those wishes were crushed by the World War. At this turning point, a new person came into her life, John A. Swenson, chairman of the mathematics department in Wadleigh High School. He revealed the gift of mathematical knowledge that Edna had. In 1922 Edna Kramer received a BA degree summa cum laude from Hunter College where she majored in mathematics. She was elected into the Pi Mu Epsilon honorary mathematics society and Phi Beta Kappa. She did graduate study at Columbia University while teaching at DeWitt Clinton High School in Bronx, New York and at Wadleigh High School. Kramer earned her MA in mathematics in 1925 and PhD in mathematics with a minor in Physics in 1930. She continued her studies as a full time student at the Courant Institute of New York University from 1939-1940 and 1965-1969. She also furthered her studies at the University of Chicago during 1941.

With some monetary help from Swenson, she became the first female instructor of mathematics at New Jersey State Teachers College in Montclair. While in Montclair Kramer was invited to co-author a high school textbook with some colleagues. She had to decline the offer because of her loyalty to Swenson. This loyalty for Swenson stemmed from his curricular proposals and Kramer not wanting to compete with his own authoring of books. Although she declined their offer, she did help them with ideas, corrections, exercises and applications within the book. Within her own book on statistics, Kramer gave her colleagues credit for their influence.

On July 2, 1935, Edna Kramer married Benedict Taxier Lassar. Lassar was a French teacher and guidance counselor at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York. Lassar graduated from New York's City College and Columbia University. He eventually retired from the New York City School system in 1962 and became a psychologist in 1964. Lassar encouraged Kramer's interests in teaching and writing. They traveled about the United States, Canada, and the near and far East. Kramer's two major books were dedicated to Lassar because of his strong influence and the role he played in her life.

The Depression affected Kramer in a different way than most. Although anti-Semitism, discrimination of women, and low wages caused great danger to her work of research and teaching, she was able to overcome these difficulties. She took a teaching position with the New York City School system in 1934, where her salary doubled and she became an acting chairman of the department. During 1935-1938 she taught a method curriculum in the graduate school at Brooklyn College. During 1943-1945 she work long hours at Jefferson High School then long evenings at Columbia University. Later she worked in the university's Division of War Research under the office of Scientific Research and Development in Washington, D.C. In 1948, she began her lasting affiliation with New York Polytechnic Institute, moving from adjunct instructor to adjunct professor in 1953. She retired from the New York City school system in 1956 and New York Polytechnic Institute in 1965.

While she worked she belonged to the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematics Association of America, The Sociètè Mathèmatique de France, the Association for Women in Mathematics, the American Association for Advancement of Sciences, the History of Science Society, and New York Academy of Science. After she retired, she remained busy with publishing, traveling, and studying. From 1965-1969, she attended classes at Courant Institute, and in 1973 she was invited to give a lecture on "The Contributions of Women, Past and Present, to the Development of Mathematics" at Nanuarg University in Singapore.

Kramer's greatest work is considered the book, The Nature and Growth of Modern Mathematics, which was published in 1970. This work took her 14 years to complete. In 1972 she was elected into the Hall of Fame at Hunter College. On July 9, 1984, Edna Ernestine Kramer Lassar died after struggling with Parkinson's disease. Although she is no longer living, her many books still are read and studied today, including A First Course in Educational Statistics, Mathematics Takes Wings: An Aviation Supplement to Secondary Mathematics, and The Main Stream of Mathematics.

May 1997


  1. The Associated Press, "Dr. Edna Kramer-Lassar, 82, Ex-Professor of Mathematics," The New York Times, 25 July 1984, D23.
  2. Lipsey, Sally Irene. Women of Mathematics: A Bibliographic Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, Grinstein and Campbell (editors), 1987, 114-120.
  3. Mathematics Genealogy Project
  4. Biography at the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive