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Forsythe (George and Alexandra) Papers
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  • General note
  • Scope and Content
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation:
  • Provenance
  • Publication Rights
  • Access Restrictions

  • Language of Material: Undetermined
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: George and Alexandra Forsythe papers
    Identifier/Call Number: SC0098
    Physical Description: 40 Linear Feet
    Date (inclusive): 1936-1979

    General note

    1. AAAS American Association for the Advancement of Science
    2. AAUP American Association of University Professors
    3. ACM Association for Computing Machinery
    4. ARPA Advance Research Projects Agency
    5. CS Computer Science (Forsythe's)
    6. CS137 137 is class number (Forsythe's)
    7. CSD Computer Science Department (Forsythe's)
    8. COSINE Committee on Computer Science in Electrical Engineering
    9. COSRIMS Committee on Support of Research in Mathematical Sciences
    10. CUPM Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics
    11. FJCC Fall Joint Computer Conference
    12. IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
    13. IFIP International Federation for Information Processing
    14. NA Numerical Analysis (Forsythe's)
    15. NAS National Academy of Sciences
    16. NBS National Bureau of Standards
    17. NDEA National Defense Education Act
    18. NSF National Science Foundation
    19. ODE Ordinary Differential Equations (Forsythe's)
    20. ONR Office of Naval Research
    21. PDE Partial Differential Equations (Forsythe's)
    22. SICCSE Special Interest Committee on Computer Science Education
    23. SIAM Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics
    24. SIGNUM Special Interest Group on Numerical Mathematics
    25. SIREV SIAM Review
    26. SLAC Stanford Linear Accellerator Center
    27. SMSG School Mathematics Study Group
    28. SPADE Subcommittee On Partial Differential Equations
    29. SPIRES Stanford Physics Information Retrieval System
    30. SWAC NBS Western Automatic Computer

    Scope and Content

    The papers of George and Alexandra Forsythe include professional correspondence, notes for lectures and publications, committee records and publications, materials relating to the Forsythes' writings in the field of computer science, and materials relating to Alexandra Forsythe's interest in secondary school instruction of computer science.


    Memorial Resolution: George Elmer Forsythe 1917-1972
    George E. Forsythe, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Computer Science, died on April 9, 1972, at the age of 55. He founded the Stanford Computer Science Department, one of the first such departments in the nation, on January 1, 1965. His wise counsel, friendly encouragement and inspiring leadership will be sorely missed by his colleagues and his many friends in and outside the department.
    George was born on January 8, 1917, in State College, Pennsylvania, and moved as a small boy with his family to Ann Arbor, Michigan. His undergraduate work was at Swarthmore College, where he majored in Mathematics. His experience there had a strong influence on his life. His graduate study was in Mathematics at Brown University where he received his M.S. in 1938 and his Ph.D. in 1941. He then came to Stanford but his first year here was interrupted by service in the Air Force, in which he became a meteorologist. His interest in his fellow students and in education manifested itself very early and he became co-author of an outstanding book on meteorology. Following his service in the Air Force his interest in numerical mathematics and computation developed rapidly. He spent a year at Boeing where he introduced what may have been the first use of automatic computing in that company. He spent several years in the Institute for Numerical Analysis of the National Bureau of Standards, a special section located on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the Institute because he wanted to watch the development of the Standards Western Automatic Computer (SWAC), one of the first of the digital computers. He had many interesting tales to tell of these early days of computing.
    Stanford acquired its first computer in 1953, and research and instruction in numerical mathematics and computation began to develop. Soon after this the Mathematics Department began to search for new leadership in this field, and George Forsythe was the unanimous choice of the faculty. It was in 1957 that he returned to Stanford, joining once again the Mathematics Department, this time as Professor. He quickly saw the need for more emphasis on numerical mathematics and computing and was a strong advocate of more involvement in these areas. He was an inspiring and persuasive leader, with an unrivalled sense of timing. He saw the Computer Revolution developing and the need for more study, research, and teaching in the computer area. He conceived it as related to but still different from the traditional emphasis in mathematics; thus, he became convinced of the need for adding scholars well-versed in this area to the faculty. Under his leadership, the Computer Science Division of the Mathematics Department was formed in 1961, and he began the slow process of gathering an outstanding group of colleagues.
    The culmination of this effort was the founding of the Computer Science Department on January 1, 1965, by which time he had succeeded in attracting a nucleus of leading computer scientists. Under his dynamic leadership and foresight the department developed into one of the outstanding Computer Science Departments in the nation. George was very skillful in bringing together many diverse points of view. He captured the loyalty of his colleagues. He was a master at resolving differences between people with different views. Of all his professional activities, building and leading the department was closest to his heart. He did, however, contribute his leadership to Stanford in other but related tasks. He served as Director of the Stanford Computation Center from 1961 to 1965. He played a major role insuring effective interaction between the University and the distinguished computer experts from education, government, and industry on the Computer Science Advisory Committee. During his last two years he was chairman of the Presidential Committee on Computation Facilities and the leading voice in urging that greater attention be given to effective use of computers at Stanford.
    George had a nationwide influence on Computer Science education. The emergence of a discipline of Computer Science is due to his efforts more than to those of any other single person. As editor of the Algorithms Department of the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, a prominent journal, he made important contributions to the quality of technical computer science publications. He served a term as President of the Association for Computing Machinery from 1964 to 1966. His influence on computer education and other activities in the computer area continued long after his term of office was ended.
    In his research, lectures, and publications, he tried to serve as the mediator between the theoretical mathematician, the application-minded engineer and the numerical analyst who had to cooperate with both and had to utilize their knowledge and experience in order to help them in solving their problems. He was the author of two books in this vein: Finite-Difference Methods for Partial Differential Equations (with Wolfgang Wasow), John Wiley, New York, 1960, and Computer Solution of Linear Algebraic Systems (with Cleve B. Moler), Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1967. Both of these books have been translated into Russian and Japanese and the latter one also into German. His judgments on the practical possibilities and potentials of theoretical procedures in mathematics were highly appreciated by his colleagues in pure mathematics and his criticism was always stimulating and helpful.
    George was always most concerned with students' welfare, making all of his vast library of books and reprints freely available to them as well as to his colleagues. In any discussion with his colleagues he was a strong advocate of what he felt would most benefit the students. Their progress and development were his constant concern. Perhaps the most visible and enduring evidence of his influence on other people is to be seen in the significant contributions that have been made and are being made by the students whose research he guided. He was never too busy to see and encourage them, and he chose their problems wisely. He instilled in them a fine feeling for the techniques of research so that most of them have continued to work in important areas. The influence of his students on the direction of research in numerical analysis and on the development of computer science has been remarkable.
    He enjoyed an active life, continuing to play tennis until only a few weeks before his death. He was also a jogger and a hiker. He loved the out-of-doors. He and his wife, Sandra, were married on the same day that he received his Ph.D. She shared his interest in computation and shared with him early experiences in using SWAC. While George was developing Computer Science education at the college level, Sandra was also actively pioneering this area at the high school level and continues to pursue this activity. Together they enjoyed travelling in many countries and hiking in the High Sierras. In addition to his wife, George is survived by his son Warren (Tuck), who is a graduate student of botany at the University of Montana, and by his daughter, Diana, a graduate student of anthropology at Cornell.
    John G. Herriot, Chairman
    Gene H. Golub
    Donald E. Knuth
    William F. Miller
    Menahem M. Schiffer

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item], George and Alexandra Forsythe Papers, SC 098, Stanford University Archives, Stanford, Calif.


    Gift of Mrs. Sandra Forsythe, 1972, and Dianne and Warren Forsythe, 1979.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.

    Access Restrictions

    Box 1 of Addenda 2023-542 is restricted for 75 years and may be made available in 2036.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Computer science -- Study and teaching
    Computer science.
    Computer scientists -- California.
    Mathematics -- Study and teaching.
    George, Alan.
    Suppes, Patrick
    O'Flaherty, Michael.
    Forsythe, George E. (George Elmer)
    Hockney, Roger W.
    Forsythe, Alexandra I.
    Hamming, R. W. (Richard Wesley)
    Stanford University. Computer Science Department
    Lyman, Richard W.
    Pólya, George,
    Stanford University. Department of Mathematics
    Dantzig, George Bernard, 1914-2005
    Association for Computing Machinery.
    Terman, Frederick Emmons, 1900-1982