Agnes Scott College

Evelyn M. Nelson

Evelyn Nelson

November 25, 1943 - August 1, 1987

Evelyn Merle Roden was born in Hamilton, Ontario of Russian immigrants. Banashcewki writes that

One of the most positive influences on her life at that time, as well as during all later years, was the unwavering reassurance she received from her parents. It was, indeed, not the easiest in those days for a girl to become passionately interested in mathematics and natural science, with many attitudes pervading the schools, and society at large, that were acting as powerful influences against such a choice. Thus it is very much to her parents' credit that they did everything possible to encourage her to follow her natural inclinations and innate talents, no matter how unfamiliar this might have appeared.

Evelyn began her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto in the Mathematics-Physics-Chemistry honors program, then transferred to McMaster University after two years. Shortly after this she married Mort Nelson (later separated). She graduated in 1965 at the top of her class, then began graduate study at McMaster. She received her Master's degree in 1967 and her thesis on "Finiteness of semigroups of operators in Universal Algebra" became her first published pager. In 1970 she received her Ph.D., also from McMaster University, under the direction of Günther Burns. Her Ph.D. thesis, completed only a few months after the birth of her first child, was on "The lattice of equational classes of commutative semigroups," published in the Canadian Journal of Mathematics, volume 23 (1971) [Abstract]. Nelson taught at McMaster as a research associate for eight years before being given a position in the department at the associate professor level. She was promoted to full professor in 1983. Nelson wrote over 40 papers during a period of about 20 years and also served as the editor of Algebra Universalis. In the late 1970's, she began an investigation of algebraic problems arising in theoretical computer science, publishing several papers in computer science journals. From 1982 to 1984 she chaired the Unit of Computer Science within the mathematics department at McMaster. Nelson died at the age of 44 after battling cancer for several years.

The Canadian Mathematical Society now awards the CMS Krieger-Nelson Prize Lectureship for Distinguished Research by Women in Mathematics in honor of Cecilia Krieger and Evelyn Nelson.


  1. Banaschewski, B. "Evelyn M. Nelson: An Appreciation," Algebra Universalis, 26 (1989), 259-266.
  2. Adamek, Jeri. "A Farewell to Evelyn Nelson," Cahiers de topologie et geometrie differentielle categorieques (1988), 171-174.
  3. Petruso, Annette. "Evelyn Nelson," in Notable Mathematicians, Robyn Young, Editor, Gale Research, 1998, 364-365.
  4. Annellis, Irving H. "A Personal Retrospective on the Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Evelyn M. Nelson," Modern Logic, vol. 7, nos. 3/4 (July/December 1997), 268-271.
  5. MathSciNet [subscription required]
  6. Author Profile at zbMath
  7. Mathematics Genealogy Project
  8. Biography at the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive