Thursday, April 30, 2009

Serach's Grandmother, Edith Luchins

Via my mother-in-law, here is a beautiful piece about Serach's grandmother, Edith (Hirsch) Luchins, who was (among other things) a brilliant woman who was the first woman to serve on the board of the Orthodox Union (OU), the first woman to be appointed as a full professor at the prestigious engineering school, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and had the privilege of being close friends with both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Albert Einstein (the Rebbe used to send dollars to Einstein through her).

I never had the opportunity to meet her, as she passed away in 2002; Serach adored her.
The article:

Edith Luchins is an inspiration for any woman. Her story is specifically interesting to me since she lived in New York City before she moved to the Albany area. She had an incredible life in pioneering in Mathematics and in the community.

Early Life and Education

Born Edith Hirsch in Brzeziny, Poland in 1921, she and her family emigrated to New York City in 1926. Edith was very good at mathematics. She was a member of the mathematics club and often tutored other students. One day, she decided to take a course in psychology which was taught by Abraham Luchins. Abraham was a graduate student in educational psychology at New York University. The course compelled Edith’s interest in cognitive psychology, as it applied in mathematics education.

A collaboration in the theory, and a romance, started between Luchins and Edith. She enrolled at Brooklyn College, receiving her BA degree in 1942. She and Abraham married after she had graduated.

During the war, Edith worked in support of America in the industry. Eventually, Abraham joined the army. During this time, Edith enrolled in a graduate program at New York University while teaching math at Brooklyn College. Edith received her M.S. degree in 1944 from N.Y.U.

Edith gave birth to her first child in 1946. She was not able to take her comprehensive exams or write her thesis upon completion of her courses. A second child was born in 1948.

In 1949, the Luchins moved to Montreal. They remained there for 5 years while Abraham began teaching at Mc Gill University. Edith worked with her husband in the area of psychological issues in mathematics. During this time, two more children were born.

In 1954, Abraham was offered a position at the University of Oregon. Edith continued her studies and received her PhD in mathematics in 1957. She gave birth to their fifth child year later.

Edith held the N.Y.S. fellowship of the American Association of University Women during 1957-58. At this time, she wrote several papers that were published in articles - On strictly semi-simple Banach algebras, and On radicals and continuity of homomorphisms into Banach algebras. Some titles!

Professor Luchins

In 1962, Edith started teaching mathematics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. She was the first woman to be appointed as a full professor at the prestigious engineering school. Her field was mathematics, of course.

Before her retirement from Rensselaer, Edith was also a guest professor of mathematics at West Point from 1991-92. Retirement wasn’t easy for her. She found herself back at Rensselear mathematics department. Edith was loved and adored by students and the faculty. She was appointed an adjunct professor of cognitive science in 1994. Edith received the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Darrin Counseling Award, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, and the Rensselaer Alumni Association Outstanding Faculty Award.

On top of that, Edith was honored with the Award for Distinguished Public Service at West Point. In 1998, she was made an honorary member of the International Society for Gestalt Theory and its applications.

At one time, Edith directed a National Science Foundation study on why so few women studied mathematics. She collaborated with Mary Ann McLoughlin and wrote a paper on Olga Taussky Todd.

Edith received a grant from a Rensselaer Teaching Fellowship to integrate geometry and calculus through computer graphs. She has written 12 books and over 70 articles.

Edith died in 2002. Her obituary in the Renssellaer Campus News reads as follows:

Luchins’ research focused on mathematics and psychology. She had worked on mathematical models of order effects in information processing; on gender differences in cognitive processes and their implications for teaching and learning mathematics; and on the roles of heuristics and algorithms in mathematical problem solving, with and without the use of computers. She was also interested in the history of mathematics, and, in particular, the history of women in mathematics.

In the Albany area, she was very active member of the Congregation Beth Abraham Jacob where she established work in Jewish communal life. She was the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors of the Orthodox Union.

Edith Luchins was a great woman and role model for all women, and she concludes my series on women who overcame gender barriers and other obstacles to fulfill their dream. I hope you enjoyed learning about these people with me.

What is your dream? What are you doing to make it come true?


  1. I had the delightful privilege to take courses with Edith while I was a graduate student at RPI. I will never forget her enthusiasm for mathematics and especially for life.
    Chuck Malloch

  2. Would you like to add this remembrance to my project, Grandma got STEM? If so, please contact me at You can see the project here: Best regards,
    Rachel Levy