Mathematics was required of students from the earliest days of the College. The Laws of 1783 required that the applicant for admission shall have “learned the rules of ... Vulgar Arithmetic.” In 1828 the annual catalogue noted that an entering student “must be well acquainted with ... Colburn’s Algebra, as far as Quadratick Equations.” According to the Laws of 1793, students were exposed to “Fennings Arithmetic, Hammonds Algebra, Stones Euclid, Martins Trigonometry, Loves Surveying, Wilsons Navigation,” but not until the third year of their studies, the first two having been occupied largely by the Classics, rhetoric, and oratory. The professors of mathematics during the first hundred years included Benjamin West, who lectured from 1786 to 1798, Asa Messer whose title was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy from 1799 to 1802 and who continued to teach after becoming president in 1802, Jasper Adams from 1819 to 1824, Alva Woods from 1824 to 1828, Alexis Caswell from 1828 to 1863, and Samuel Stillman Greene from 1855 to 1864. For a number of years the faculty of the department were Brown graduates. Immediately after his graduation in 1863, Benjamin F. Clarke became instructor in mathematics, advancing to professor of mathematics and civil engineering in 1868. Nathaniel French Davis 1870 returned to Brown in 1874 as instructor in mathematics and remained until 1915, being named professor of pure mathematics in 1890. In 1874-75 the study of logic was removed from the professorship of rhetoric and was joined to mathematics. Henry Parker Manning 1883 introduced previously unavailable courses in higher mathematics at Brown, when he returned after earning his Ph.D. degree at Johns Hopkins in 1891. Clinton Currier 1898, who began as an instructor in 1899, added astronomy to his teaching duties in 1914. In 1907 Professor Roland G. D. Richardson came to Brown from Nova Scotia by way of Yale. He was chairman of the department from 1914 to 1942, and secretary of the American Mathematical Society from 1921 to 1940. Appointments during Richardson’s chairmanship included Raymond C. Archibald, also from Nova Scotia, in 1907, C. Raymond Adams ’18 in 1918, Ray E. Gilman in 1919, and Albert A. Bennett ’10 in 1927.
Richardson was instrumental in bringing European scholars into the department. Jacob D. Tamarkin came from Russia in 1927 and taught until 1946. Between 1933 and 1935 Hans Lewy and Otto Szasz taught at Brown under the provision of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars. George Polya from Hungary was a visiting professor from 1940 to 1942. President Wriston announced in his annual report in June 1939:
“The year has seen a remarkable development in connection with the Mathematics Department. It became known late in the fall that Professor Otto Neugebauer, the distinguished editor of the Zentralblatt für Mathematik and also of the Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik, was available for an American appointment, and after negotiations he was offered an appointment as Professor of Mathematics at Brown University. Assistance in meeting the salary commitment was granted by the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars. We also appointed his assistant, Mr. Olaf Schmidt, who has been working with him for some years.
“Professor Neugebauer paid a visit to this country this spring and found rich material for his researches. At the same time the American Mathematical Society decided to establish an international journal of mathematical abstracts, to be known as Mathematical Reviews, and located that journal at Brown, appointing Professors Neugebauer and Tamarkin its editors. The Society also made available the necessary funds to bring Dr. Willy Feller as assistant to the editors and as lecturer in Brown University.
“The Rockefeller Foundation has granted a request for a grant to make available in photographic form all the significant material on mathematics which has been published and which is not presently available here. The proposed laboratory will also make copies of articles and extracts from books available to mathematical scholars everywhere at nominal cost, so that men who are in institutions without large mathematical libraries and who note works in the Mathematical Reviews which bear upon the field of their special interest may have full copies for their own use.
“In the course of the last few years the center of research in mathematics has shifted to the United States. The library at Brown is already one of the most distinguished collections in the world. The recent developments bid fair to make it even more so, and to make this institution a center for mathematical research known the world around.”
In the summer of 1941 a Program of Advanced Instruction and Research in Mechanics was organized by Professor Richardson with the support of the U.S. Office of Education and the Carnegie Foundation. The program grew into the Division of Applied Mathematics.
Professor C. Raymond Adams was chairman of the Department of Mathematics from 1942 to 1960. New additions to the faculty were Bjarni Jonsson and Herbert Federer in 1946, Frank M. Stewart in 1947, and E.H. Lee in 1948. A program leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics was initiated in 1969 for students who wished to add more study in science to the pure mathematics program. Chairmen of the department after Adams have been David Gale, Wendell H. Fleming, Bruno Harris, John Wermer, Allan H. Clark, Robert D. Accola, Jonathan D. Lubin, Andrew Browder, Thomas Banchoff, William Fulton, and Walter A. Strauss.
The Mathematics Department moved in 1952 to the old Delta Kappa Epsilon house, which was renamed Howell House. The next move in 1961, necessitated by the impending razing of Howell House to make room for the Rockefeller Library, was to 155 Thayer Street, where the department occupied half a house which was given the name of Howell House, the other half of which was already named Ames House. In time the Mathematics Department used the whole house, and was finally given a spacious home in Kassar House with its new addition in 1990.