Herta Taussig Freitag


Born: 6 December 1908 in Vienna, Austria
Died: 25 January 2000 in Roanoke, Virginia, USA

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Herta Freitag received the degree Magister Rerum Naturalium, in Mathematics and Physics, from the University of Vienna in 1934, and graduated M.A. (1948), Ph.D. (1953) from Columbia University, USA.

After the invasion of Austria on 11 March 1938, life became very difficult for the Taussig family. Her father, who as editor of Die Neue Freie Presse had written several editorials warning of the dangers of Nazism, was dismissed from his post. Months later, Herta Taussig was granted immigration to England where she had jobs as a housemaid, governess, waitress and finally as a teacher, before obtaining the visa which took her to the United States in 1944. Her mathematics career was thus rescued, although effectively suspended for six years.

She taught at a school in upstate New York from 1944 to 1948 and there met Arthur Freitag, whom she married in 1950. In 1948 she moved to Hollins College (now University), where her career progressed from instructor to full Professor and departmental chairman, until her formal retirement in 1971. During her years at Hollins College, and throughout her even longer period of retirement, she received many awards. She was the first woman to become President of the Virginia, Maryland, and District of Columbia Section of the Mathematical Association of America.

Her lectures, always meticulously crafted and beautifully illustrated in her inimitably artistic calligraphy, are delivered so enthusiastically and yet so modestly, as if she fears that her personality might take any of the glory or attention away from Mathematics. One of her most inspired remarks concerns mathematicians' fondness for generalizing results:-

A mathematician is like a lover - give him a little finger and he wants the whole hand!

A colleague, with echoes of Gauss's description of Mathematics as the Queen of the Sciences, and Number Theory as the Queen of Mathematics, named Herta Freitag as the Queen of the Fibonacci Association. For she has attended and given a paper at every International Conference of the Association since the first one in 1984. She has also contributed prodigiously to the Elementary Problems and Solutions Section of the Fibonacci Quarterly and published many papers in that journal. Most appropriately, the Fibonacci Quarterly chose to honour her not on her 90th birthday, but on the threshold of her 89th year, since 89 is a number in the Fibonacci sequence.

Article by: G M Phillips, St Andrews

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JOC/EFR July 1999
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
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