Cathleen Morawetz
1923 -

There are few people, especially women, in the field of Mathematics who have accomplished as much as Cathleen Morawetz. Born in Canada on May 5, 1923 of Irish immigrants in Toronto, Canada , Cathleen could not help but have an interest in mathematics. Her father, John Lighton Synge, is a famous mathematician in his own right and her mother, Eleanor Mabel Allen Synge, also dabbled in mathematics. Cathleen spent some time in Ireland with her parents before entering school at the age of seven in Toronto. Upon graduation and encouraged by her parents, Cathleen attended the University of Toronto to study mathematics. How fortunate Cathleen was to have the support of her family in a time when most women were not encouraged to pursue academics. Cathleenís father jokingly told her, "...we might fight like the Bernoulli brothers" if she became a mathematician. Despite the obstacles of the era, Cathleen won a scholarship to attend the University of Toronto during the time of World War II.

It was during this period that Cathleen worked as a technical assistant doing war work in 1943-44. Upon returning to the University of Toronto after the war, Cathleen had the good fortune of working under the distinguished Cecilia Krieger and finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics in 1945. Cathleenís education and interest in mathematics did not stop with her Bachelors degree. Cathleen married a chemist, Herbert Morawetz, in 1945 and moved to Massachusetts and received her Masterís Degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946. It was at this time that Cathleen was at odds with whether to continue her studies as a mathematician as the opportunities for women were very limited at that time. Luckily, her former teacher and friend, Cecilia Krieger, persuaded her to continue with her studies.

Moving to New York, Cathleen started on her doctorate. It was while editing a book for noted mathematicians Courant and Friedrichs on Supersonic Flow and Shock Waves, that Cathleen became fascinated by transonic flow and associated phenomena. It was this interest that lead Cathleen to write her doctoral thesis on spherical implosion, supervised by Friedrichs, and was subsequently awarded her Ph.D. in 1951. It was during this time period that Cathleen became a naturalized United States citizen. After receiving her Ph.D., Cathleen served as a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The time Cathleen spent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was short lived. Cathleen returned to the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences of New York University in 1952 as a research associate. Cathleen received steady promotions and became an assistant professor in 1957. Her advancement did not stop there. Cathleen went on to become an associate professor in 1960 and ultimately a full professor in 1965. Cathleen has been a pioneer for women in mathematics.

Continuing at the Courant Institute, in 1974, Cathleen became associate director, a position she held until 1984 when she was appointed Director of the Courant Institute. Cathleen is the first woman to not only hold this position, but she was the first woman to hold any position of this stature in the United States. Additionally, Cathleen has received many honors throughout her distinguished career. They include:

Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Member of the Advisory Committee for the Mathematical Sciences for the National Science Foundation

Member of the Mathematical Advisory Committee to the Nation bureau of Standards

First woman to belong to the Applied Mathematics Section of the National Academy of Sciences

Trustee for the American Mathematical Society

Trustee for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Trustee for Princeton University

Guggenheim Fellow Recipient in 1066 and 1978

Lester R Ford Award of the Mathematical Association of America

First woman to deliver the Gibbs Lecture of the American Mathematical Society in 1981

Received the 1997 Krieger-Nelson Award

Honorary degree from Easter Michigan University in 1980

Honorary degree from Brown University in 1982

Honorary degree from Smith College in 1982

Named Outstanding Woman Scientist by the American Association for Women in Science in 1993

Elected President of the American Mathematical Society in 1995

National Medal of Science Recipient in 1998

In addition to her love of mathematics, Cathleen found the time to raise a family. Her children include Pegeen Ann, John Synge, Lida Joan, and Nancy Babette. Cathleen has done what many women wish they could do successfully, have both a family and a career. The National Organization of Women has recognized Cathleen for her success in combining a family and a career during a time when women thought that they could not have both and during a time when women were not encouraged to venture beyond the home. OíConner, J.J.& E.F. Robertson. (May 2000). Cathleen Morawetz. Retrieved June 6, 2000 from the World Wide Web: Riddle, L. (June 1997). Cathleen Morawetz. Retrieved June, 6, 2000 from the World Wide Web:

Contributed by Jan Swanson


  1. OíConner, J.J.& E.F. Robertson. (May 2000). Cathleen Morawetz. Retrieved June 6, 2000 from the World Wide Web:
  2. Riddle, L. (June 1997). Cathleen Morawetz. Retrieved June, 6, 2000 from the World Wide Web:

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