September 28, 1893 - March 22, 1973
Hilda Geiringer was born in Vienna, Austria. She received her Ph.D. in 1917 from the University of Vienna with a thesis entitled "Trigonometrische Doppelreihen" about Fourier series in two variables. From 1921 to 1927 she worked at the Institute of Applied Mathematics at the University of Berlin. Her mathematical interests had switched from pure mathematics to probability and the mathematical development of plasticity theory. During this time she had a brief marriage to Felix Pollaczek, a statistician. They had one daughter who Geiringer raised after the divorce. In 1925 Geiringer applied to teach at the University of Berlin. She became an assistant to Richard von Mises, director of the Institute of Applied Mathematics at the university. Controversy about the appropriate independent role of "applied mathematics" within the German mathematical culture in Berlin delayed her approval to become Privatdozent (lecturer) until 1927. She received her "Habilitation" in applied mathematics with a thesis that combined statistics and mechanics. In 1930 her work in plasticity theory led to the development of the fundamental Geiringer equations for plane plastic deformations.
Geiringer remained at the University of Berlin until 1933 when she was forced to leave after Hitler came to power. After a brief stay as a research associate at the Institute of Mechanics in Belgium, Richard von Mises brought her to Istanbul University in Turkey where she stayed for 5 years as his assistant and as a lecturer. During this time she wrote or published about 18 papers and a book, written in Turkish, based on her lecture notes on introductory calculus for chemistry students. Her papers were in the fields of plasticity, mathematical statistics, and the theory of probability with particular applications to Mendelian genetics. The latter area became an important and successful part of her research program.
Geiringer left Turkey in 1939 after the Turkish government failed to extend her contract at the university. After a brief stay in Lisbon while waiting for an American visa, she emigrated to the United States and became a lecturer at Bryn Mawr College. In 1943 she married Richard von Mises who was now teaching at Harvard. In 1944 Geiringer became professor and chair of the mathematics department at Wheaton College, a women's college in Massachusetts. She remained at Wheaton until her retirement in 1959. Attempts to find a position at some of the larger universities near Boston repeatedly failed, often because of her gender . From 1955 to 1959 she did work as a research fellow in mathematics at Harvard in addition to her position at Wheaton.
Despite the considerable teaching demands of a small college, Geiringer continued her mathematics research in the mathematical basis of Mendelian genetics, the foundations of probability theory, and plasticity. She published a series of articles in the Annals of Mathematical Statistics about the probability theory of linkage in Mendelian heredity. She also worked to complete her husband's unpublished manuscripts after his death in 1953, particularly his textbook Mathematical Theory of Probability and Statistics. Siegmund-Schultze calls her "one of the finest applied mathematicians of this century" [5, p366].
Geiringer was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science. In 1956 the University of Berlin named her professor emeritus. The University of Vienna also made a special presentation to her on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of her graduation.