Agnes Scott College

Mary Catherine Bishop Weiss

December 11, 1930 - October 8, 1966


Mary Weiss was the daughter of a university mathematics teacher. She attended the Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, then continued on to the university itself for both her undergraduate degree and her Ph.D. (1957). Her Ph.D. thesis, under the direction of Antoni Zygmund, dealt with trigonometric series. The title was "The Law of the Iterated Logarithm for Lacunary Series and Applications to Hardy-Littlewood Series". It was published in the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 91 (1959) [Abstract]. Altogether she published 20 papers during the course of her brief but productive career.


The following article was written by Antoni Zygmund and appeared in Orthogonal Expansions and Their Continuous Analogues, Deborah Haimo, Editor, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968, xi-xii. It is reprinted here with permission of Southern Illinois University Press.

A mathematical career of great promise came to an abrupt end with the untimely death of Mary Catherine Weiss at the age of 35. An interesting personality, a strong and original mathematician, she succeeded during her short life in contributing to her field of interest results of considerable and lasting value.

Early factors influencing Mary's scientific bent can perhaps be attributed to an indirect legacy from her father, Colonel Albert Bishop. A West Point graduate, he turned to mathematics and university teaching upon his retirement from the Army. Although he died before his daughter was two, the mathematical textbooks he left behind aroused the attention of Mary's brother, Errett, now also a mathematician, and this in turn served to stimulate the interest of the younger child.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, Mary moved to Chicago with her mother and brother after completing grade school. Her formal education, from that point on, was centered entirely at the University of Chicago where she first attended the Laboratory School, then was graduated from the College, and continued on through her doctoral degree. It was here that, while both were students, she met and married Guido Weiss who also became a mathematician. During the course of her studies, she attended my class in trigonometric series, our mathematical contact originating when she began working on her Ph.D. thesis on a topic I suggested, lacunary trigonometric series; the behavior of these series resembles in many ways that of series of independent random variables in the calculus of probability, a subject which she had mastered while working for the Advisory Board on Simulation, a project of the University of Chicago. As one of the large group of talented mathematicians attracted to the University of Chicago in the years following the war, Mary thrived in the friendly atmosphere at Eckhart, the University mathematics building, where an informal, natural contact exists between professor and student, and between one student and another. She had a strong affection for the University, so much so, indeed, that despite opportunities elsewhere, she repeatedly gravitated back to Chicago.

Mary was a dedicated, conscientious teacher always generous with her time and energy. In recent years, she did an outstanding job of directing, informally, the research work of a number of mathematics doctoral candidates at the University of Chicago, and always rejoiced in any success of a student. At various times, she held teaching posts at De Paul University in Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, and Stanford University. She was in Cambridge, England, as a National Science Foundation senior postdoctoral fellow when she was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. She had returned to Chicago and had assumed her duties for but a few weeks when she died.

Mathematical work came to Mary naturally and could absorb her completely. She was capable of spending long hours, and occasionally even days, in deep concentration, and, what is more, rather than driving her from it, personal problems and anxieties led her to work at an intensified pace. Although deeply committed to mathematics, Mary's interests were by no means limited. She liked music, especially the opera, good literature, though detective stories intrigued her, and in art she was most appreciative of painting. She was concerned about world affairs to the extent that, despite her generally retiring nature, she participated in demonstrations protesting the war in Vietnam and lent her name to a number of public appeals against that war. In addition, she strongly supported the cause of civil liberties adding weight to her convictions by her generous financial contributions.

Classical analysis was the area of Mary's mathematical interest, primarily real variable and harmonic analysis. Her best results were probably those pertaining to the differentiability of functions and to lacunary trigonometric series. In the metric theory of real variable she had unusual intuition and power which she showed from the beginning; I know few mathematicians whom I could compare with her in this respect.

References

  1. Weiss, Guido. "Mary Catherine Bishop Weiss," in Women of Mathematics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook, Louise Grinstein and Paul Campbell, Editors, Greenwood Press, 1987, 236-240.
  2. Zygmund, A. "Mary Weiss," Orthogonal Expansions and Their Continuous Analogues, Deborah Haimo, Editor, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968, xi-xii.
  3. MathSciNet [subscription required]
  4. Mathematics Genealogy Project