Agnes Scott College

Mildred Leonora Sanderson

May 12, 1889 - October 15, 1914

Mildred Sanderson was born in Waltham, Massachusetts where her family had lived for over 200 years. She was the valedictorian of her class at the Waltham High School. She entered Mt. Holyoke College in 1906 where she won "Senior Honors" in mathematics upon her graduation in 1910. She then began graduate studies at the University of Chicago where she held the Bardwell Memorial Fellowship during 1910 and 1911. She received a Master's degree in 1911 with a thesis on "The General Linear Group with Respect to a Function and Composite Integer as Moduli." A brief version of this thesis was published in the Annals of Mathematics, Vol. 13(2) (1911), 36-39, under the title "Generalizations in the Theory of Numbers and Theory of Linear Groups" [Abstract]. Two years later she completed her Ph.D. under the direction of L.E. Dickson with a thesis on "Formal Modular Invariants with Applications to Binary Modular Covariants." She was Dickson's first female doctoral student. Her thesis was published in the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 14 (1913), p489- 500 [Abstract]. Dickson later wrote of this thesis:

This paper is a highly important contribution to this field of work; it's importance lies partly in the fact that it establishes a correspondence between modular and formal invariants. Her main theorem has already been frequently quoted on account of its fundamental character. Her proof is a remarkable piece of mathematics."

This theorem was often cited as "Miss Sanderson's Theorem." E.T.Bell later wrote that

Miss Sanderson's single contribution (1913) to modular invariants has been rated by competent judges as one of the classics of the subject.

After completing her Ph.D., Sanderson briefly taught at the University of Wisconsin before her untimely death in 1914 due to illness. In his tribute in the 1915 Monthly, Dickson wrote:

The remarkable mathematical ability and originality shown by Miss Sanderson in her master's and doctor's these and the very unusual ease with which she assimilated ideas in all branches of pure and applied mathematics, combined with her enthusiasm for that science, gave full promise of a highly successful career for her in research. Her death on October 15, 1914, only a year after completing her graduate studies, was not only a distinct loss to progress in mathematical research in America, but was a very keen blow to her fellow students, to all of whom she had endeared herself by her most lovable personality.....If I may be permitted to add my personal tribute to the universally expressed tribute to her remarkable ability, it would be to say that she was my most gifted pupil.


  1. Dickson, L.E. "A tribute to Mildred Lenora Sanderson," American Mathematical Monthly, 22 (1915). Reprinted in the Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter, 4(5) (Aug 1974), 9-10.
  2. Green, Judy and Jeanne LaDuke. "Contributors to American Mathematics: An Overview and Selection," in Women of Science-Righting the Record, G. Kass-Simon and Patricia Farnes, Editors, Indiana University Press, 1990.
  3. Bell, E.T. "Fifty Years of Algebra in America, 1888-1938," in Semicentennial Addresses of the American Mathematical Society, AMS, Providence, R.I., 1988.
  4. Author Profile at zbMath
  5. Mathematics Genealogy Project