Posts from the Past: Concordia Great: Dr. Mae Anderson

Dr. Mae Anderson, Mathematics Professor

In January 2012, Concordia’s mathematics and computer science department celebrated its centennial anniversary. The celebration included a series of “Mae Anderson Alumni Talks” whose namesake is a 1920 Concordia alumna. 

Mae Anderson was born in 1899 near Westby, Wis., but her family moved to Shelly, Minn., in the 1910s. After graduating from high school, Anderson enrolled at Concordia College where she was a staff member of the Cresent (the predecessor to today’s Concordian). Anderson was also a member of the Alpha Society, which only accepted students that achieved “A” grades and demonstrated earnestness and a strong work ethic.

After her graduation from Concordia in 1920, Anderson taught high school and continued her education in mathematics. In 1923, she earned her master’s degree and began teaching at Waldorf Junior College and Academy in Forest City, Iowa. She then returned to Concordia in 1928 as an instructor in mathematics. In 1929, she was promoted to assistant professor and began coursework in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago. Anderson studied in Chicago during the summers, took a one-year sabbatical in 1935, and finished her doctorate program in 1936. In 1937, Anderson was promoted to full professor and became the first woman to serve as the department chair. She remained in both of these roles until her death in 1948 from leukemia. 

In addition to her teaching duties, Anderson was involved in many activities on and off campus. She worked on the Graduate Scholarship Committee and was secretary for the Committee on Relations to the Armed Forces. As secretary, Anderson corresponded with Cobbers that served in World War II and gathered questionnaires about their service. These materials now reside in the Concordia College Archives and are a rich source of information about how the war impacted Concordia alumni and the institution. Anderson also was active in Lutheran Daughters of the Reformation at Trinity Church.

Anderson was known for her patience, high expectations, sense of humor, and love of mathematics. The 1949 Cobber yearbook described her as having “that trait found in the rare teacher which is the ability to see the subject through the eyes of the student and thus to anticipate the difficulties he is sure to encounter.” Anderson has left a legacy beyond Concordia as well: she was featured in the 2009 book “Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD’s” by Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke.

Contributed by Lisa Sjoberg, former college archivist