Scope and Content
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: George and Alexandra Forsythe papers
Identifier/Call Number: SC0098
40 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1936-1979
COMMON ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THIS COLLECTION
- AAAS American Association for the Advancement of
- AAUP American Association of University Professors
- ACM Association for Computing Machinery
- ARPA Advance Research Projects Agency
- CS Computer Science (Forsythe's)
- CS137 137 is class number (Forsythe's)
- CSD Computer Science Department (Forsythe's)
- COSINE Committee on Computer Science in Electrical
- COSRIMS Committee on Support of Research in Mathematical
- CUPM Committee on the Undergraduate Program in
- FJCC Fall Joint Computer Conference
- IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronic
- IFIP International Federation for Information
- NA Numerical Analysis (Forsythe's)
- NAS National Academy of Sciences
- NBS National Bureau of Standards
- NDEA National Defense Education Act
- NSF National Science Foundation
- ODE Ordinary Differential Equations (Forsythe's)
- ONR Office of Naval Research
- PDE Partial Differential Equations (Forsythe's)
- SICCSE Special Interest Committee on Computer Science
- SIAM Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics
- SIGNUM Special Interest Group on Numerical
- SIREV SIAM Review
- SLAC Stanford Linear Accellerator Center
- SMSG School Mathematics Study Group
- SPADE Subcommittee On Partial Differential
- SPIRES Stanford Physics Information Retrieval
- SWAC NBS Western Automatic Computer
PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES MENTIONED
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
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
[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.
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.
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 scientists -- California.
Mathematics -- Study and teaching.
Forsythe, George E. (George Elmer)
Hockney, Roger W.
Forsythe, Alexandra I.
Hamming, R. W. (Richard Wesley)
Stanford University. Computer Science
Lyman, Richard W.
Stanford University. Department of Mathematics
Dantzig, George Bernard, 1914-2005
Association for Computing Machinery.
Terman, Frederick Emmons, 1900-1982