Agnes Scott College

Leona May Peirce

August 4, 1863 - September 24, 1954

Leona May Peirce was born in Norway, Maine. Most of her life was spent in Springfield, Massachusetts, where her father, Levi Peirce, was a music dealer. Peirce received her A.B. degree from Smith College in 1886. After college she alternated between teaching and studying mathematics. She taught mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the Springfield Collegiate Institute from 1886 to 1889, before spending a brief year at Cornell University studying mathematics, history of philosophy, and physics. She returned to Massachusetts to teach mathematics for one year at Mt. Herman School for Boys. This was followed by a year studying mathematics at Newnham College, part of Cambridge University, England. Peirce returned to Smith College in 1892-1893 to earn her Master's degree in mathematics. She studied mathematics and history of philosophy again at Cornell, then spent three years at Clark University as a private pupil before finally enrolling at Yale University. She received her Ph.D. from Yale in 1899 with a dissertation on "Chain-Differentiants of a Ternary Quantics."

There are few records of what Leona Peirce did after receiving her Ph.D. In response to a questionnaire from Helen Brewster Owens in 1937, she wrote:

Owing to the sudden death of my father from pneumonia, I was obliged to undertake the management of a retail music business with a chain of stores, which, before the depression, did a business of half a million dollars a year. This has prevented my active continuance in my professional line, which I sincerely regret.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, Peirce was very involved in community activities in Springfield. She served as a member of the Springfield School board for eleven years, and was president of the Springfield College Club and of the Western Massachusetts Branch of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. She was a trustee for the Wesson Memorial Hospital for nine years, and director of the Springfield Civil Service Reform League for five years. The Great Depression of 1929, however, may have caused her music business to fail, for Leona returned to teaching mathematics and physics at Barrington School from 1928-1932, and algebra and English at Leominster High School from 1932-1934. She lived in Springfield until her death in 1954, survived by her brother, Dr. William Peirce, who was president of Kenyon College for thirty-eight years.


  1. Walter Eells. "American doctoral dissertations on mathematics and astronomy written by women in the nineteenth century"
  2. Helen Brewster Owens Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.
  3. Mary Elizabeth Williams Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.
  4. Woman's Who's Who of America (1914-1915), John William Leonard, Editor-in-Chief, American Commonwealth Company, 1914.
  5. Obituary. New York Times, September 29, 1954.
  6. Mathematics Genealogy Project