Hanna Neumann

Hanna Neumann (1914-1971), mathematician, was born in Berlin on 12 February 1914, youngest of three children of Katharina and Hermann Conrad von Caemmerer, archivist and historian. He was killed in the 1914-18 war and the family survived on a small war pension, supplemented by part-time earnings; Hanna coached younger school children from the age of thirteen. She was educated at Augusta- Victoria-Schule, entering Berlin University in 1932. She made friends with a group of young mathematicians including Bernhard Neumann, later to become her husband. Her first year coincided with the rise to power of the Nazis; Hanna was one of the students who tried to stop the harassment of Jewish lecturers by stopping any but genuine students from entering lecture rooms. Although she and Bernhard planned to marry, they had to keep this secret as Bernhard was Jewish. He moved to England and in 1938 she gave up her doctoral course to join him.

The war years were not easy. As aliens they were required to move from their home in Cardiff. After Bernhard was interned and released into the British army, Hanna began work for her DPhil, moving to shared accommodation and later to a caravan on a farm near Oxford, where she completed writing her thesis by candlelight. On trips to town her two children rode in a sidecar attached to her bicycle.

After the war, they moved to Hull where Bernhard, and later Hanna, held temporary lectureships. In 1948 Bernhard accepted appointment to Manchester University, and for ten years he spent the terms there while Hanna, with their four (later five) children, remained at Hull teaching at the University. Meeting the needs of family and her teaching duties, while remaining active in mathematical research, required organisation, determination and long hours of work. Nevertheless, she found time for students and held regular 'open house'. Her research work on varieties of groups won her a DSc from Oxford University in 1955. She accepted an appointment in the Faculty of Technology of the University of Manchester in 1958 and the family was reunited. On leave in 1961-62 she was visiting research scientist at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Science, New York, and a guest lecturer at other institutions.

In 1962 Bernhard came to Canberra invited by the Australian National University to set up a Department of Mathematics in the Research School of Physical Sciences. Hanna was offered a readership in the same department. She arrived in 1963 expecting to spend her time on research but in 1964 was invited to take a newly created Chair in Pure Mathematics in the University's School of General Studies. She was concerned that students should enjoy mathematics, and she encouraged innovative ideas and discussion on teaching among her staff. Hanna continued to be active in mathematical research, mainly on group theory. In recognition of her work she was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and was frequently invited to lecture overseas.

She was interested also in school mathematics teaching; she gave lectures and wrote on new content in school mathematics syllabuses for school teachers, and also gave talks to parents and schools. She wished to create a favourable attitude to the learning of mathematics, especially among girls. She was a founding vice-president of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers and was awarded a fellowship by the Australian College of Education in 1970. An early love of botany was revived after her arrival in Australia when she began photographing Australian plants. Many family holidays were spent cycling.

Hanna died unexpectedly in 1971 while in Canada. A distinguished mathematician and an inspiring teacher, she was the first woman professor of mathematics in Australia. She was lively, energetic, good humoured, with 'a sympathetic ear for any student' and is remembered for 'tremendous dedication and sincerity and the friendliness of her presence'.

Mary Barnes

M. F. Newman and G. E. Wall 'Hanna Neumann', Journal of the Australian Mathematical Society 1974.