Agnes Scott College

Olive Clio Hazlett

Olive Clio Hazlett

October 27, 1890 - March 8, 1974

Larry Riddle, Agnes Scott College

Olive Clio Hazlett was born in Cincinnati and grew up in Boston where she attended the public schools. She received her bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College in 1912, and a master's degree in 1913 and a Ph.D. in 1915, both from the University of Chicago. Her thesis director for both degrees at Chicago was Leonard Dickson. She was his second female doctoral student after Mildred Sanderson. The title of her Ph.D. degree was "On the Classification and Invariantive Characterization of Nilpotent Algebras." The published version appeared in the American Journal of Mathematics, vol 38 (1916), pp109-138 [Abstract].

During 1915-1916, Hazlett did research on invariants of nilpotent algebras at Harvard as an Alice Freeman Palmer Fellow of Wellesley College. The next two years were spent at Bryn Mawr before she took an assistant professor position at Mount Holyoke. She was promoted to associate professor in 1924 but was dissatisfied by what she perceived as a lack of time and library facilities to pursue her research in algebra. In 1925, therefore, she moved to the University of Illinois as an assistant professor with a salary of $3,000. When she applied for the job at Illinois, Dickson called her "one of the two most noted women in America in the field of mathematics" [Rossiter 174]. She was to remain at Illinois for the rest of her professional career.

During Hazlett's first year at Illinois she taught College Algebra I and II, Differential and Integral Calculus I and II, and the year long graduate sequence in Modern Algebra. In 1928 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1928 to spend a year in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. During this year she presented a paper on "Integers as Matrices" at the International Congress of Mathematicians. She then requested and received an extension of her Guggenheim Fellowship to spend another year in Europe. When she returned to Illinois in 1930, she was promoted to associate professor with a salary of $4,000.

During the 1931-32 academic year, her teaching load had not changed much from her first year at Illinois. That year she taught calculus, plane trigonometry and analytic geometry, and again taught the graduate sequence in Modern Algebra. During the academic year 1935-1936, Paul Halmos was a student in her graduate algebra class. In his "automathography", Halmos writes

Algebra was taught by Olive Hazlett who was, by our lights, a famous and important mathematician: she published papers and she taught advanced courses...Hazlett's course was based mainly on the first volume of van der Waerden, with, of course, some deletions and additions. She enjoyed telling us about one of her papers whose title she gave as "Embedding a ring in a field," and she enjoyed telling us how her colleague Shaw teased her about it--it evoked a picture of nefarious agricultural activities, he said.

In 1935 Hazlett wrote a letter to the chair of the mathematics department complaining about having to teach the large service courses to nonmajors. Indeed, she was so unhappy at Illinois that she had a series of mental breakdowns in the 1930s and 1940s from which she never recovered [Rossiter 365]. She took a paid sick leave from December, 1936 to August, 1937. By that time her salary had been reduced to $3,500 because of the Depression. Most, if not all, of her work was to be taken care of by the department without additional expense, but the leave was granted with the provision that any additional expenses to the university due to the leave would be deducted from her salary. She was not able to return to teaching at the end of the leave, however, and was forced to take another leave of absence for one year on account of ill health. She apparently returned to teaching after this, however, for an article in the 1995 mathematics department newsletter reports

When she was a senior during 1940-1941, alumna Eleanor Ewing Erlich...remembers, Henry Brahana taught the first semester of introduction to higher algebra and the second was taught by Professor Olive Hazlett, "who was tall, thin, her long grey hair done up in a bun, wisps of hair always hanging down in her face. She seemed so different that we in her class were rather frightened of her."

Hazlett was again on leave during 1944-45 for war work, and in 1946 was placed on disability leave until further notice. She remained on disability leave until her official retirement in 1959 as Associate Professor Emerita. She lived the rest of her life at her home in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Hazlett wrote seventeen research papers, the last appearing in 1930, on nilpotent algebras, division algebras, modular invariants, and the arithmetic of algebras. According to Green and LaDuke, she wrote more papers than any other pre-1940 American woman mathematician. Some of her work was in an area that was denoted by "formal modular invariants," known now as the theory of invariants in characteristic p. In this work she translated the differential operator methods of the characteristic zero case to characteristic p, inventing the theory of differential equations in positive characteristic. She also wrote the article on quaternions for the 14th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. She served as an editor of the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society from 1923 to 1935 and served on the Council of the AMS from 1926 to 1928.

Letter from Olive Hazlett describing her mathematical career.

See Book Reviews in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society that were written by Olive Hazlett.

June 1997


  1. Green, Judy and Jeanne LaDuke. "Contributors to American Mathematics: An Overview and Selection" in Women of Science, Righting the Record, G. Gass-Simon and Patricia Farnes, Editors. Indiana University Press, 1990.
  2. Rossiter, Margaret W. Women Scientists in America, Struggles and Strategies to 1940, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1982.
  3. Materials courtesy University of Illinois Archives, Record Series 15/14/28.
  4. "An Alumna Remembers," Math Times, University of Illinois Mathematics Department newsletter, Spring 1995.
  5. Fennster, Della Dumbaugh. "Role Modeling in Mathematics: The Case of Leonard Eugene Dickson (1874-1954)," Historia Mathematica 24(1), February 1997, 14-15.
  6. Halmos, Paul. I want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography, Springer-Verlag, 1985, p45.
  7. Olive C. Hazlett: Music and Puzzles, Part of the Women Mathematicians and NMAH Collections at the National Museum of American History.
  8. MathSciNet [subscription required]
  9. Author Profile at zbMath
  10. Mathematics Genealogy Project
  11. Biography at the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive