September 23, 1851 - October 27, 1930
Ellen Hayes was born in Granville, Ohio, a town that her maternal grandparents helped to found in 1805. She was the oldest of four daughters and two sons of Charles and Ruth Wolcott Hayes. Her family was a strong supporter of education for both men and women. Her grandfather was a trustee of the Granville Female Academy and her mother, a graduate of that academy, was a teacher. Ellen received an A.B. from Oberlin College in 1878, raising money for her tuition by teaching in the district schools. For one year after graduation she was principal of the women's department of Adrian College, Michigan. In 1879 she accepted a position as a mathematics teacher at Wellesley College, where she taught until her retirement in 1916. Hayes was the first member of the Wellesley faculty to be given the title of Assistant Professor in 1882, and Associate Professor in 1883. She was appointed Professor and head of the mathematics department in 1888. In 1897, however, antagonism between Hayes and the pure mathematicians of the department about the value of applied mathematics, and other complaints about her administration of the department, led to her being made head and sole member of a new department of applied mathematics. Her title was changed to Professor of Applied Mathematics, and in 1904 to Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy. Helen Merrill notes that "In 1897, courses were offered [in the new department] in Elementary Mechanics, Elementary Mathematical Astronomy, Thermodynamics, Advanced Theoretical Mechanics, Geodynamics, Theoretical Astronomy and Principles of Inference."
Hayes wrote several textbooks on Lessons on Higher Algebra (1891, revised 1894), Elementary Trigonometry (1896), and Calculus with Applications, An Introduction to the Mathematical Treatment of Science (1900) [Preface]. She used the calculus text in a "brief course in Calculus, which made it possible for students to gain some acquaintance with the subject a year earlier than in the usual Calculus course, then given in third year work" . All of her textbooks were filled with applications and contributed to the study of these subjects from the standpoint of their use. After her retirement she turned to other kinds of writing, publishing "Wild Turkeys and Tallow Candles," a description of life in Granville, Ohio, in 1920, and a historical novel called "The Sycamore Trail" in 1929. In this work she described "Teachers as Trail Makers":
"There must always be the explorer to go ahead; then the blazed trail becomes the well-beaten track for less daring feet. Radical ideas directed toward the promotion of free thought, free speech, free opportunity, free lives, grow and spread. No power, no form of penalty or persecution, has thus far been devised which can permanently suppress these ideas...You and I are called to the trailblazer's work of today. There will be those – perhaps many – who will see our blazes and follow us. We won't know who they are, probably; but that is unimportant. They will be using the path we make.
In 1891 Hayes was elected a member of the New York Mathematical Society (later to become the American Mathematical Society), one of the first six women to join this organization. In 1912 she was nominated for Secretary of State in Massachusetts on the socialist ticket, the first woman to be a candidate for a state elective office in Massachusetts. At that time, of course, women were not allowed to vote for her but she still received more votes (13,991) than any other socialist candidate.
Whitman quotes from the history of Wellesley College:
A dauntless radical all her days, in the eighties she was wearing short skirts; in the nineties she was a staunch advocate of Woman's Suffrage; in the first two decades of the twentieth century, an ardent Socialist. After her retirement, and until her death in 1930, she was actively connected with an experiment in adult education for working girls. Fearless, devoted, intransigent, fanatical, if you like, and at times a thorn in the flesh of the trustees, who withheld the title of Emeritus on her retirement, she is remembered with enthusiasm and affection by many of her students.
Louise Brown, one of the numerous students of Ellen Hayes and a close friend in later years, wrote the following in a sketch called "Ellen Hayes, Teacher, Friend and Companion" .
It was in her teaching that these qualities [clear thinking, quiet enthusiasm and rare culture] had the remarkable effect of stimulating mental activity that surprised even her students themselves. My courses with her included Calculus, Celestial Mechanics, Logic and Astronomy. Emphasis was placed on the nature and significance of natural law, on the need of clear definition of terms, the nature and use of evidence, conditions under which authority must be relied upon or rejected. These principles were later embodied in one of the best of her publications entitled "How Do You Know?" Her power as a writer, like her power as a teacher, was due to her clearness of thought and rare command of English. These qualities served her as well also in her public addresses in Boston and elsewhere, where her audiences responded with spontaneous enthusiasm to the quiet personality on the platform.
In 1929, the 78-year old Hayes left her home in Wellesley to help establish a new school in West Park, NY, for young women workers in the factories. She died there a year later and was buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Granville, Ohio.
Photo Credit: Photograph is from "A Mayflower Family of Central Ohio" and is used with permission of the Hayes family