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Celebratio Mathematica

Cathleen Synge Morawetz

Cathleen S. Morawetz

by Donald J. Albers and Constance Reid

Cath­leen Mor­awetz, a math­em­atician’s daugh­ter, spe­cial­izes in the ap­plic­a­tions of par­tial dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions. She is the only wo­man who has been in­vited to de­liv­er the Gibbs Lec­ture of the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety,1 which is tra­di­tion­ally on an ap­plied sub­ject. (She talked on “The math­em­at­ic­al ap­proach to the son­ic bar­ri­er.”) In ad­di­tion to her re­search and teach­ing, she has been dir­ect­or of NYU’s Cour­ant In­sti­tute, a trust­ee of Prin­ceton Uni­versity and a dir­ect­or of the NCR Cor­por­a­tion. She says she fa­vors a “new plan of life” for wo­men, ac­cord­ing to which they would have their chil­dren in their late teens and their moth­ers would bring up the chil­dren.

Math­em­at­ic­al People: There are very few wo­men in math­em­at­ics, and few­er still who have done the things you have done — even few­er who have a hus­band of forty years and four chil­dren as well! You’re really quite re­mark­able. We know from your cur­riculum vitae that you were born in 1923, in Toronto, the daugh­ter of the well-known Ir­ish math­em­atician, J. L. Synge.

Mor­awetz: Well, I was born in 1923 and he was born in 1897, so he was only twenty-six. He was not well known then.

MP: So was the po­s­i­tion in Toronto his first?

Mor­awetz: Yes. He had come to Toronto at the in­vit­a­tion of A. T. De­Lury, the head of the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment, who was of Ir­ish stock and a great fan of J. M. Synge, the play­wright — my fath­er’s uncle. I think my fath­er wanted to leave Ire­land at that time. He had been a stu­dent dur­ing the East­er Re­bel­lion of 1916, and al­though his and my moth­er’s sym­path­ies were with the Na­tion­al­ists [the Ir­ish re­belling against Brit­ish rule], both of their fam­il­ies were di­vided.

MP: Your moth­er was also Ir­ish?

Mor­awetz: Yes. Also born in County Wick­low.

MP: So you are one hun­dred per cent Ir­ish?

Mor­awetz: That’s right, but I’m also Anglo-Ir­ish be­cause both my par­ents were Prot­est­ants from the south of Ire­land, which is really very dif­fer­ent from north­ern Ire­land.

MP: I am in­ter­ested in the fact that you are the second of three daugh­ters of J. L. Synge. I have read that wo­men sci­ent­ists are quite fre­quently second daugh­ters. The ex­plan­a­tion giv­en is that a second daugh­ter feels that she should have been a boy, so there’s a tend­ency for her to take after the fath­er and try to be­come a son in her in­terests. I don’t know wheth­er that is true.

J. L. Synge.

Mor­awetz: I was the boy in the fam­ily. I was the boy from the word go. But that doesn’t mean that I had an es­pe­cially close re­la­tion­ship with my fath­er. My older sis­ter really had a closer re­la­tion­ship. For in­stance, when we were girls and we wanted to do something he didn’t want us to do, she was al­ways del­eg­ated to ne­go­ti­ate with him. I would say rather that I was in com­pet­i­tion with my fath­er. Bet­ter not print that! [Laughs.] That was the pat­tern, quite dif­fer­ent. But I was def­in­itely the boy. In fact, it was rather funny. When I was sev­en and we re­turned to Canada from Ire­land, I had had a ma­jor op­er­a­tion on my leg so I had my leg in a brace. It had been ar­ranged that my fath­er was go­ing to look after me, and my moth­er was go­ing to look after my little sis­ter, who was just a baby. My older sis­ter was go­ing to look after her­self. It was all very form­ally ar­ranged. And the first thing my fath­er did was to take me to have my hair cut like a boy’s. This was sup­posedly be­cause it was a mess and he didn’t want to have to take care of it, but that’s what he did. Of course that was 1930, and that was a time when people did have their hair cropped. But when the people on the ship said I was a little boy, I was very un­happy.

MP: Do you mean that you were a tom­boy?

Mor­awetz: That’s right. I wasn’t very ath­let­ic, so I didn’t do sports — but I was the one who played with the Mec­cano set. Now I do re­mem­ber hav­ing a dis­pute with my sis­ter about a doll, so I must have been some­what in­ter­ested in dolls, too, but in gen­er­al I liked the Mec­cano and that sort of thing. I con­struc­ted en­gines and levers. And it’s true I did that with my fath­er.

MP: Did your moth­er have any math­em­at­ic­al in­terest?

Mor­awetz: She went to Trin­ity Col­lege and stud­ied math­em­at­ics, but her broth­er per­suaded her that there was no fu­ture in math for her, so she switched to his­tory. At one point, when she was ready for sec­ond­ary school, there was a com­pet­i­tion among the Prot­est­ant girls in Ire­land and she placed first. Ac­tu­ally she won a prize to go to the con­ser­vat­ory of mu­sic in Lon­don, but her moth­er wouldn’t let her go. She went to Trin­ity Col­lege in­stead, and that’s where she and my fath­er met. After they were mar­ried — he was still in school then — she taught to sup­port them, so she nev­er got a de­gree.

MP: Ge­net­ic­ally you’re really packed for math­em­at­ics!

Mor­awetz: Yes. I think so.

MP: When you said that you were in com­pet­i­tion with your fath­er, to what peri­od of your life were you re­fer­ring?

Mor­awetz: Why do I say that? Well, I just think we were in com­pet­i­tion. It’s true we had this com­mon in­terest, that we liked to do these mech­an­ic­al things. Later we liked to sail. We both en­joyed that very much. But there was al­ways a wee com­pet­it­ive­ness there.

MP: Did you think you could make bet­ter levers and oth­er mech­an­ic­al things than your dad?

Mor­awetz: No. Cer­tainly not. Not at all. I should add that I was very close to my moth­er. I think that I had a much more in­tim­ate re­la­tion­ship with my moth­er than my sis­ter did. My older sis­ter, I mean. My young­er sis­ter was much young­er — sev­en years.

MP: Did you show an early in­terest in math­em­at­ics?

Mor­awetz: Well, it was clear when I was very small that I was good at school. For ex­ample, when my older sis­ter star­ted school at the age of five — we began with my moth­er teach­ing us at home, but that didn’t work — I made a ter­rible fuss. I in­sisted that I had to go to school too, and so my moth­er took me down and per­suaded the prin­cip­al — it was a private school — to take me. I star­ted school at the age of three. They kept me in the first year for two years. I was very an­noyed about that.

MP: Three years old and in what was or­din­ar­ily first grade?

Mor­awetz: I think it was called kinder­garten, but you learned to read. I learned to read at the age of three.

MP: You were really de­term­ined to go to school. That’s a good math­em­at­ic­al qual­ity — stub­born­ness.

Mor­awetz: Yes. In fact, I had a repu­ta­tion as a child for be­ing — well, sort of stub­born.

MP: Are you still stub­born?

Mor­awetz: I’m tough. [Laughs.] My fath­er said to me just the oth­er day, “We’re both tough.”

MP: In the art­icle on you in Sci­ence a few years back, you were quoted as say­ing, “My fath­er’s at­ti­tude was that I had tal­ent in math­em­at­ics but that I was not will­ing to work hard enough.”

Mor­awetz: That was later — when I was an un­der­gradu­ate at Toronto. I think the earli­est I re­mem­ber my fath­er telling me something math­em­at­ic­al was when I was be­gin­ning to study Eu­c­lidean geo­metry at school. At that time he also told me about cartesian geo­metry. I must have been twelve or thir­teen.

MP: And you liked cartesian geo­metry?

Mor­awetz: Yes, I liked it, but I didn’t really pur­sue it. We nev­er had any form­al les­sons.

MP: So what was it about math­em­at­ics that first cap­tured your in­terest? Was it simply that you were good at it?

Mor­awetz: Well, I wasn’t good at arith­met­ic. I used to get bad marks in men­tal arith­met­ic. I found that an­noy­ing, be­cause I didn’t think it mattered. But I was a good stu­dent all around. I thought at one time in high school that I would go in­to his­tory.

MP: You didn’t con­cen­trate on math­em­at­ics?

In 1943 Cathleen (center) reported to her sister “a wonderful discussion on ‘woman, career and/or married life.’ Just as inconclusive as ever. But neither of us can think of a solitary case where a woman had a career and managed to have a balanced (mentally) family including an unhenpecked husband…. On the other hand we thought that [not having a career] produced a sort of neurosis in women like Mum and Mrs. Jones who have too much housework that they loathe and especially in the latter’s case no interests when the husband isn’t [at home].”

Mor­awetz: I con­cen­trated on math­em­at­ics in the last year of high school — we had five years of high school in Toronto — be­cause I had a teach­er, Mr. Reyn­olds, who was put­ting us up for schol­ar­ships. These were com­pet­it­ive schol­ar­ships. He was a very nice man, and he ran a little class to coach about five stu­dents. Look­ing back, though, I real­ize that he ran the class for me. He taught me quite a lot. My fath­er wasn’t par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in what I was do­ing, and I wasn’t in­ter­ested in dis­cuss­ing it with him. In fact, when we got stuck on our home­work and asked him for help, he would write on a piece of pa­per — he al­ways used only one side for his own work — and then the great ob­ject was to get out of his study with the piece of pa­per be­cause, of course, we were so scared of him that we couldn’t hear what he was telling us at the time, but we hoped that if we had the pa­per…

MP: Did you go to a pub­lic high school?

Mor­awetz: Yes. The high school sys­tem con­sisted of vo­ca­tion­al schools and aca­dem­ic schools. If you wanted to go to the uni­versity, you more or less had to go to an aca­dem­ic school, but of the stu­dents in the aca­dem­ic school I would say only about ten per cent went on to the uni­versity. And, of course, nobody thought of go­ing away to col­lege.

MP: So the schol­ar­ships you spoke about were for the Uni­versity of Toronto?

Mor­awetz: That’s right. There was a really quite tough ex­am in all sub­jects, and after that there was a sort of math­em­at­ics prob­lems ex­am, so the pos­sib­il­ity of win­ning one of the schol­ar­ships was much high­er if you were good in math­em­at­ics. The top ones were all won by math­em­at­ics people. I was in a very good year. The per­son that won the highest prize was Jim Jen­kins, who is at Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity in St. Louis. Robert Stein­berg, who’s at UCLA and was just re­cently elec­ted to the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences, won one of the oth­er prizes. So I was in a class with Jen­kins, Stein­berg and Tom Hull, who’s at the Uni­versity of Toronto — it was quite a group of people. I won one of the prizes too but, emo­tion­ally, I can­not for­get that I cared most about the fact that there was a top prize which I didn’t get. I was so dis­ap­poin­ted that when people con­grat­u­lated me — there was a whole bunch at the next level down, which were worth a lot more money — I felt like cry­ing.

MP: There are many people who come in second.

Mor­awetz: It was not the com­ing in second. It was every­one know­ing about it!

MP: So is it cor­rect that when you came to the uni­versity as an un­der­gradu­ate, you did not know that you would go in­to math­em­at­ics?

Mor­awetz: Oh no. The way it was set up, you entered in­to a joint course — math, phys­ics and chem­istry. The first year you took all three, the second year you took two of the three, the third year you took one, and the fourth year you took half of the sub­ject — in math­em­at­ics it was pure or ap­plied math­em­at­ics. The un­der­gradu­ate pro­gram in pure math­em­at­ics was very tough, and frankly I would say over­loaded with courses. I was not pre­pared to de­vote my­self suf­fi­ciently — it was too tough for me — so I ended up in ap­plied math­em­at­ics, where the spir­it was dif­fer­ent.

MP: What was your ma­jor called?

Mor­awetz: It was called M. & P. — Math and Phys­ics. All the Toronto people of my gen­er­a­tion and even later know that ex­pres­sion. But it was much more than a ma­jor. You took noth­ing else.

MP: You took no lib­er­al arts courses at all?

Mor­awetz: Oh well, the Uni­versity of Toronto had a num­ber of re­li­gious col­leges and one that wasn’t re­li­gious. The re­li­gious col­leges had one hour a week for “re­li­gious know­ledge.” Since I was in the non­re­li­gious col­lege, I had one hour a week for something else. One year I took Eng­lish, one year I took Ori­ent­al lit­er­at­ure, and one year — oh, philo­sophy! And that’s all the lib­er­al edu­ca­tion that I got.

MP: And with your fath­er’s in­terest in writ­ing!

Mor­awetz: My fath­er’s at­ti­tude, which came really from his fam­ily, was that by the time you fin­ish high school you know how to write — that’s not something you do at the uni­versity. You don’t study writ­ing!

MP: So you gradu­ated with a bach­el­or’s from Toronto?

Mor­awetz: Yes, but be­fore that I had a very im­port­ant in­ter­rup­tion in my life. The second World War had broken out while I was still in high school. Toronto was, of course, a cen­ter of strong sup­port for Bri­tain. By the time I was in my third year of the uni­versity, half the class had gone off, in­clud­ing a boy­friend of mine. I wanted to do something too. So I de­cided to do what the boys had done, which was to join the Navy. But, you see, they were im­me­di­ately made of­ficers while I was told that I would have to take boot train­ing! I was very an­noyed, and my great de­sire to join the Navy sud­denly dropped to zero. But I did want to do something, so my fath­er got me a job at the In­spec­tion Board of the United King­dom and Canada, just out­side Que­bec City.

MP: So you left col­lege?

Mor­awetz: At the end of my third year I took a year off. That was the first time I had ever been away from home. It really was a fas­cin­at­ing ex­per­i­ence. And that ex­per­i­ence came back to me re­cently when I saw a ref­er­ence to Mal­colm McPhail in the bio­graphy of Tur­ing. McPhail was my boss. I was sup­posed to be a sci­entif­ic as­sist­ant of some kind to him, but he had very little for me to do and I found the job very bor­ing. I was much more in­ter­ested in the life that was go­ing on around me. So I asked for a job as what was called “a chro­no­graph girl.” This was something that I was sup­posed to be much too edu­cated for, and I was, so that was a mis­take; nev­er­the­less, look­ing back, I real­ize that I was op­er­at­ing a very early di­git­al com­puter. There were sev­er­al of us. Be­cause our work was bor­ing, we used to play games with the ma­chine. I real­ize now that stand­ard de­vi­ations must have mattered, so the er­rors we pro­duced by play­ing games must have been enough to throw off the res­ults. It was dis­grace­ful, but it wasn’t really our fault. We were not prop­erly su­per­vised. However, it’s also true that McPhail awoke my sci­entif­ic in­terest. You see, when it rained you couldn’t meas­ure shells with this thing be­cause it de­pended on an elec­tric eye. So there was an older ma­chine — I re­mem­ber its name, a Boulange Ma­chine — with which you could meas­ure ve­lo­city with a dropped rod or some such thing — and there was a scale etched on a piece of steel from which you had to read off what the speed was. Well, I dis­covered that the scale was wrong. It was not wrong by a great deal, but it was wrong. So I did some ex­per­i­ments and checked the the­ory and wrote a little note. That was the first time I thought, “Well, sci­ence is fun.”

MP: It hadn’t really been much fun up to then?

Mor­awetz: It had not been fun at all. I had this big schol­ar­ship, and I wor­ried every year wheth­er I would keep on hav­ing it. It wasn’t fun. It was school. And that was ter­rible, be­cause I had some great lec­tur­ers. I had Coxeter and I had Brauer and I had my fath­er. That’s, of course, an­oth­er story — hav­ing your fath­er. I also had Al­ex­an­der Wein­stein and Leo­pold In­feld. Now In­feld was not wasted on me. In­feld was a ter­rif­ic lec­turer. He lec­tured without notes, he really mostly just talked, and he rarely put any­thing on the black­board. Once, though, he was talk­ing about Green’s the­or­em, and he wanted quite rightly to stress its im­port­ance, so at the prop­er mo­ment he opened his jack­et, pulled out a piece of pa­per, and copied from it in very large let­ters the for­mula for Green’s the­or­em and the lim­it­ing pro­cess. I can still see it on the black­board! I have nev­er for­got­ten it.

MP: What kind of teach­er was your fath­er?

Mor­awetz: My fath­er was tre­mend­ously well pre­pared. His lec­ture notes were ter­rif­ic. Of course he was — ba­sic­ally is — a shy per­son, and he didn’t know how to treat me in class. This is a story I of­ten tell. He couldn’t re­mem­ber names, so he had the ar­range­ment that three stu­dents would sit in the front row and he would ask them the ques­tions. Well, even­tu­ally, as you work your way through the al­pha­bet, you come to Synge. I re­mem­ber that I was in the middle, and he came to me and he looked at the name, paused, and fi­nally said — “Miss Synge!” Of course that brought down the house. But he was al­ways very cor­rect. For ex­ample, every year when the fac­ulty met to de­cide on hon­ors, he ab­sented him­self if I was in­volved.

MP: So after your war­time job you came back for your fi­nal year at Toronto?

Mor­awetz: That’s right. My fath­er was gone by then. I was no longer with that jazzy class. I was the best stu­dent now. And that’s al­ways very good for the ego. Com­pet­i­tion is bad for me. It just throws me right down, down and out. And so I was much hap­pi­er. I lived in a dorm, which was an ex­per­i­ence I really liked. I also met Her­bert Mor­awetz early that year. Al­to­geth­er it was just a change, a won­der­ful change, and I really en­joyed my­self.

MP: When you then went down to MIT, were you fol­low­ing Her­bert there?

At the time of her graduation from the University of Toronto in 1945.

Mor­awetz: No. What happened was that I wanted to do something exot­ic. I had found it very in­ter­est­ing to go and live in Que­bec. It was a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. So I wanted to do something else ex­cit­ing. I saw an ad for teach­ers in In­dia, and I de­cided that I would go to In­dia. And then a per­son I should really have men­tioned long be­fore, Cecil­ia Krieger, a math­em­atician on the fac­ulty whom I had known from child­hood, asked me what I was go­ing to do. When I told her about In­dia, she al­most had a fit and im­me­di­ately de­clared that if I would only ap­ply she was sure that I could get the Ju­ni­or Fel­low­ship of the Ca­na­dian As­so­ci­ation of Uni­versity Wo­men. So I did ap­ply, and I did get it. The place I wanted to go was Cal­tech, be­cause I had de­cided by then that I really didn’t want to be a math­em­atician, I wanted to be an en­gin­eer — which was the re­verse of my fath­er, who went to col­lege to study en­gin­eer­ing and de­cided to do math­em­at­ics. So I ap­plied to Cal­tech, and they wrote back that they didn’t take wo­men. And that was that. My fath­er by that time was serving as an as­sim­il­ated col­on­el in the Amer­ic­an Air Force, and he was es­sen­tially in­com­mu­nic­ado in Par­is, do­ing bal­list­ics tables for nap­alm bombs, it turned out. So I con­sul­ted In­feld, and he sug­ges­ted MIT. They took me and gave me a tu­ition schol­ar­ship. Her­bert was much re­lieved. He had thought that if I went to Cali­for­nia that would be the end of us.

MP: Tell us a little about Her­bert.

Mor­awetz: Her­bert had come to Canada in 1939 as a refugee from Czechoslov­akia. He had fin­ished chem­ic­al en­gin­eer­ing at Toronto the year that I went down to Que­bec; he had then got a mas­ter’s de­gree. When I met him he had his first job. He had had a ter­rible time get­ting it, you know. He had been the best stu­dent in his class, but every­where he went he was told, “We don’t hire Jews.” Some people said, “We’ll call you back,” or something like that, but half the people at least were quite open about why they wouldn’t hire him. In the end, through a friend of his fath­er’s, he got a job with the Bakelite Com­pany in Toronto, but those people really didn’t want to have him either. We had be­come en­gaged dur­ing the sum­mer I left for MIT, and while I was gone he ar­ranged to be trans­ferred to Bound Brook, New Jer­sey. I fin­ished at MIT with a mas­ter’s de­gree. Neither of us in­ten­ded at that time to go on and get a Ph.D.

In 1946 the young Morawetzes did not see themselves as pursuing academic careers.

MP: Was your mas­ter’s in en­gin­eer­ing?

Mor­awetz: No. The first term I was at MIT I took a lot of elec­tric­al en­gin­eer­ing, and I dis­covered two things. One was that my arith­met­ic was still no bet­ter than it had been, and it really mattered. The oth­er was that I was no good at ex­per­i­ments. So I went back to ap­plied math and wrote a mas­ter’s thes­is with Eric Re­iss­ner. By that time I was mar­ried — I got mar­ried in the middle of the MIT thing. I was the first com­mut­ing wife. Every­body thought I was crazy to com­mute, and every­body thought Her­bert was crazy to let me.

MP: Did you know when you mar­ried Her­bert that he was a ba­sic­ally lib­er­ated man?

Mor­awetz: Oh yes, he as­sured me that he would not in­ter­fere with my ca­reer. Did I really know? I don’t know. I only be­lieved what he said.

MP: Did he also come from an aca­dem­ic fam­ily?

Mor­awetz: No. When his fath­er left Czechoslov­akia, he was the pres­id­ent of the jute car­tel and owned a big fact­ory.

MP: Did his moth­er have a pro­fes­sion?

Mor­awetz: No, no. They were very wealthy Jew­ish bour­geois­ie, too wealthy for the wo­man to have a pro­fes­sion. In fact, Her­bert’s moth­er had nev­er gone to col­lege, al­though she was es­sen­tially the same gen­er­a­tion as my moth­er. It’s not even clear that they would have sent their daugh­ter to col­lege in Czechoslov­akia, al­though she like Her­bert is very in­tel­lec­tu­al. She did go to col­lege in Canada and is a writer. Even as refugees, the Mor­awet­zes were very well off by my stand­ards, al­though not by theirs. Cer­tainly the no­tion that to be a good moth­er you have to wash the di­apers was ab­so­lutely for­eign to all of them. My moth­er-in-law, however, did have some re­ser­va­tions about wo­men work­ing out­side the home.

MP: But you wanted to work?

Mor­awetz: Well, after I got my mas­ter’s de­gree, I looked for a job in New Jer­sey. I ap­plied to Bell Labs, and they told me that al­though I had a mas­ter’s de­gree from MIT they would not let me in­to their gen­er­al pro­gram for mas­ter’s de­gree stu­dents. I felt that a bach­el­or’s de­gree from Toronto was also worth a lot, but they didn’t un­der­stand that either. I was to be pooled with the oth­er wo­men bach­el­ors who could have got their de­grees any­where, you know. I was furi­ous. I said, “I’m not in­ter­ested in that!” Un­for­tu­nately I’ve nev­er kept any re­cords. It was prob­ably on the tele­phone any­way. Then — it must have been at the sum­mer meet­ing — no, at the Christ­mas meet­ing of the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety — my fath­er met Richard Cour­ant. Ger­trude Cour­ant had just got­ten mar­ried, too, and my fath­er and Cour­ant were be­moan­ing the fact that their in­tel­lec­tu­al daugh­ters were not go­ing to be able to pur­sue their ca­reers and so on. Now my fath­er denies this story, but the fact is that this is what he told me at the time — Cour­ant said, “You can’t do any­thing for my daugh­ter, but per­haps I can do something for yours.” I was to come down and see him at NYU. So I came down, and that’s when I had the in­ter­view with Cour­ant that figured in the MAA movie about him. I re­mem­ber he said, “Well, I really need some ref­er­ence be­sides your fath­er,” so I gave him the name of Al­ex­an­der Wein­stein, not know­ing that the two men dis­liked each oth­er in­tensely. So that’s how I came to the In­sti­tute at NYU. Cour­ant had hired me to solder con­nec­tions on a ma­chine that Har­old Grad was mak­ing to solve lin­ear equa­tions. The job in­volved my com­mut­ing an hour and a quarter from New Jer­sey, and that was a ma­jor obstacle. The oth­er obstacle was that Har­old Grad im­me­di­ately ran out and hired some­body else to do the sol­der­ing.

MP: Be­cause you were a wo­man?

Mor­awetz: He told me many years later — and I thought it was very nice of him to do so — that that was really how it was. So when I ar­rived there was no job for me. From time to time Cour­ant would mumble, “Well, can you write Eng­lish?” and I would say, “Yes.” Fi­nally he gave me the job of edit­ing the Cour­ant–Friedrichs book on shock waves.

I star­ted at NYU in March or April. At that point I had no in­ten­tion of go­ing to gradu­ate school. I didn’t con­sider my­self a stu­dent. But by the time Septem­ber rolled around — that was ’46 — Cour­ant’s group had shed a lot of its mil­it­ary work and every­body was go­ing back to purer math­em­at­ics. Friedrichs was plan­ning to teach to­po­logy. That was a big thing, you know. Fac­ulty mem­bers as well as stu­dents were go­ing to take the course. So I de­cided to take it too. It was very ex­cit­ing, and it was very com­pet­it­ive, but it was a much gentler kind of com­pet­i­tion than what I had known be­fore, al­though it’s true I cried when I couldn’t do the home­work.

MP: So there you were at what was not yet known as the Cour­ant In­sti­tute, hired by Cour­ant to solder con­nec­tions but giv­en the job of edit­ing a book by him and Friedrichs. That was a pretty tough book. You must have ex­uded a cer­tain amount of con­fid­ence.

Mor­awetz: Oh no, I didn’t at all. I was so shy that when I ar­rived at the In­sti­tute I would lit­er­ally make a run for my of­fice.

MP: But you spoke Eng­lish, and you came from a cul­tured Eng­lish-speak­ing fam­ily.

Mor­awetz: Yes. That was im­port­ant. But there was also an­oth­er thing. Cour­ant had been hav­ing trouble with the people he’d been get­ting to help him with his books. Of course, there had been the mess with Her­bert Rob­bins over What Is Math­em­at­ics? Then my pre­de­cessor on the shock wave book had been Jimmy Sav­age, and among oth­er things Sav­age hadn’t liked the first chapter — there hadn’t been enough about en­tropy in it, you know. Well, my at­ti­tude was that what went in­to the book was what Cour­ant and Friedrichs wanted to have in the book. If they wanted to take out all that stuff about en­tropy, I didn’t care. I was just fix­ing up the Eng­lish and mak­ing sure the for­mu­las were right. And I think that was what they really wanted. The oth­er ed­it­ors had been much too eager to do an­oth­er kind of edit­ing job.

MP: Still, it must have been a tough book to edit.

Mor­awetz: The funny thing is that when it came out, many people said, “Well, this is noth­ing like his oth­er books or their oth­er books,” but the truth of the mat­ter is that it has really held up. Just yes­ter­day I met an en­gin­eer, a Ph.D. in aero­naut­ic­al en­gin­eer­ing, who told me that it’s still the bible among en­gin­eers. I knew that it is still the bible in the the­ory of com­press­ible flu­id dy­nam­ics, but it was in­ter­est­ing to hear that it’s still the bible in the en­gin­eer­ing busi­ness. After all, it’s pretty old. There are a whole lot of later books on the sub­ject that are already totally out of date. But it’s held up.

Richard Courant originally brought Morawetz to NYU to solder connections.

MP: One thing that has al­ways sur­prised me is the rather cas­u­al way in which Cour­ant took a num­ber of wo­men in­to the In­sti­tute, very much as he took you in.

Mor­awetz: I should say about that — Cour­ant was won­der­ful to me, al­though he could be not so nice to me too. But I got on my feet by go­ing there. After I had been there a year, I went in and told him that I was preg­nant. He says, “Oh my god!” and he rushes off. Then he comes back and says, “You’re tak­ing your or­als next week.” It was his idea that if you had taken your or­als, you could al­ways come back and do your dis­ser­ta­tion; but if you hadn’t, you prob­ably wouldn’t come back. I im­me­di­ately went to Don­ald Flanders, who I knew would un­der­stand, and said, “I can’t do that. You would just be giv­ing it to me. I couldn’t stand that.” So I took my or­als after my daugh­ter, Pegeen, was born.

MP: Just for the re­cord, what are the years of your chil­dren’s births?

Mor­awetz: ’47, ’49, ’52, and ’54. I got my Ph.D. in 1951.

MP: Can you give our read­ers some tips about be­ing a math­em­atician and a moth­er?

Mor­awetz: Well, I got the tips from Mil­dred Cohn, the wife of Henry Pri­makoff, a phys­i­cist who had worked at the In­sti­tute in New York. They were also on a vis­it­ing thing when we were in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachu­setts, in 1950–51, and we saw them fairly of­ten. She was older than I, a very suc­cess­ful bio­chem­ist with sev­er­al chil­dren. She ob­vi­ously knew how to handle it all. She em­phas­ized hav­ing help and the im­port­ance of pay­ing for the help. Now, look­ing back, I think I should have paid more and tried to have more con­tinu­ity. The best help I had was au pair people, but they stayed only a year or so. I think now that it was a little hard on the kids not to have a moth­er-sub­sti­tute.

MP: From time to time I have asked wo­men in math­em­at­ics how they happened to choose their par­tic­u­lar field, and my sample sur­vey shows that most of them are in very pure fields which are clean and lady­like. But the titles of the pa­pers here in your bib­li­o­graphy strike me as rep­res­ent­ing so-called “mas­cu­line” in­terests.

Mor­awetz: Well, Mony Don­sker al­ways used to get a rise out of me by ask­ing how come I was work­ing in mag­neto hy­dro­dynam­ics — that wasn’t very fem­in­ine. The truth of the mat­ter is that most wo­men — in fact, most people — don’t have the broad edu­ca­tion that I got in Toronto. I learned a lot of phys­ics. I took cir­cuit the­ory as an un­der­gradu­ate and a little bit of elasti­city and op­tics. The ap­plied math­em­at­ics at Toronto was very close to phys­ics. Some of it was taught by en­gin­eers. Now it’s also true that I was tak­ing al­gebra with Brauer and geo­metry with Coxeter, and both sub­jects fell on deaf ears. I nev­er got really in­ter­ested in, and don’t think I would be very good at, all those struc­ture prob­lems that oc­cur in pure math­em­at­ics. I can still re­mem­ber listen­ing to Brauer de­fin­ing fields and rings and think­ing what was it all good for. On the oth­er hand, I was very pleased when I once proved something for Friedrichs that was not ap­plied at all!

MP: Why did you do your thes­is with Friedrichs rather than with Cour­ant?

Mor­awetz: Well, I’ll tell you what comes im­me­di­ately to my mind. I’m not sure though that I really think it’s true. But it was be­cause I thought it would be tough­er. I con­stantly wor­ried about be­ing handed things on a plat­ter. I felt that if I did a thes­is with Cour­ant he would just give it to me. Friedrichs wouldn’t do something like that. So that was a very im­port­ant thing for me. But ac­tu­ally what happened was this. I was between chil­dren. After I passed my or­als, I went in to see Friedrichs. At that time he had stopped be­ing in­ter­ested in flu­id dy­nam­ics and was tre­mend­ously in­volved in quantum mech­an­ics. He put all these prob­lems on the board and talked about vari­ous things and kept say­ing, “You know, you just have to be really eager and en­thu­si­ast­ic.” And I couldn’t get en­thu­si­ast­ic about any of them — I was back to square one. I star­ted work­ing on something — I’ve for­got­ten now what it was — but at the same time, you see, I was earn­ing my sti­pend by work­ing on a prob­lem for the pro­ject that was ap­plied — or more ap­plied — in flu­id dy­nam­ics. I had had a mis­car­riage after my first child and I was preg­nant with my second, so I must have been a little bit in and out of it. Any­way, when I told Friedrichs that I was preg­nant, the gods at the In­sti­tute ar­ranged that my pro­ject work would be turned in­to my thes­is. That was fine, but then after I had the child — that was John — and came back to the thes­is, which in­volved an in­ter­est­ing prob­lem in asymp­tot­ics in or­din­ary dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions that Langer’s the­ory didn’t cov­er, I wasn’t able to prove the the­or­em. And that, I found, was very de­press­ing. I did some com­pu­ta­tions that par­tially veri­fied the con­jec­ture, but I was nev­er happy with the work and nev­er pub­lished it. Ac­tu­ally it was on the the­ory of im­plo­sions, and I did not know when I worked on the prob­lem that an im­plo­sion was what made the atom­ic bomb go off. I learned that — rather Her­bert told me that — when it came out in the tri­al of the Rosen­bergs.

MP: How did you find work­ing with Friedrichs?

Mor­awetz: Well, he was a little dif­fi­cult at that time. He was so in­ter­ested in quantum mech­an­ics that he didn’t want to think about what I was do­ing in flu­id dy­nam­ics. Now, since I’ve had stu­dents of my own, I know how he felt. I had the of­fice next to his, but I had to make an ap­point­ment if I wanted to see him. He was a very reg­u­lated per­son, you know.

MP: So when did you fi­nally get really ex­cited about math­em­at­ics? You don’t crank out pa­pers like these [in­dic­at­ing her bib­li­o­graphy] in a state of bore­dom.

Mor­awetz: Well, don’t for­get, jug­gling kids and so on has a dis­sip­at­ing ef­fect on one’s en­thu­si­asm. But when I went back to MIT in 1950–51, I found the way C. C. Lin looked after me really ter­rif­ic. He was or­gan­ized but or­gan­ized on a dif­fer­ent pat­tern from Friedrichs. He would give me a prob­lem and if I hadn’t made any pro­gress in five weeks, he would take it away and give me an­oth­er one. I was at MIT a year, and after a couple of months I really latched onto something. It was again or­din­ary dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions, but one of the things that helped was — you see, I hadn’t been able to do the case in my thes­is but these cases I could do. Also there were very in­ter­est­ing ap­plied math­em­at­ic­al reas­ons for do­ing them. So I be­came quite in­ter­ested. When I came back to NYU, I was again flounder­ing. Then it was Lip­man Bers who gave me a pa­per to read on mixed equa­tions and — did I find a mis­take in it? or make an im­prove­ment? I think it was an im­prove­ment. So then I got go­ing on that.

MP: That must have bolstered your self-con­fid­ence.

Mor­awetz: In math­em­at­ics there is fre­quently the prob­lem of kick­ing up one’s en­thu­si­asm. An­oth­er time when I really didn’t know what to work on and was strug­gling with a pa­per some­body had giv­en me about sin­gu­lar or­din­ary dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions with some patho­lo­gic­al be­ha­vi­or, Jürgen Moser came by and said, “Ach, it’s ri­dicu­lous to work on that prob­lem.” So I threw the pa­per away. What got me work­ing on the wave equa­tion, which later dom­in­ated a lot of my work, was a lec­ture by Joe Keller on un­solved prob­lems. As I was sit­ting there, I saw that the tech­nique I had used on mixed equa­tions ought to have ap­plic­a­tions to Keller’s prob­lems — they were el­lipt­ic this way and hy­per­bol­ic that way — and that really worked out. I don’t be­lieve that I ever again had the feel­ing of ab­so­lutely flounder­ing.

MP: Don’t you think also that for you, as for most wo­men, the prob­lem of hav­ing chil­dren and get­ting them go­ing is not only an ab­sorb­ing but a ne­ces­sar­ily ab­sorb­ing prob­lem?

Mor­awetz: Oh yes. Even just hav­ing the chil­dren, be­ing preg­nant and giv­ing birth. There I was very lucky. I had an easy time. I felt bet­ter when I was preg­nant and I did bet­ter work. And the births them­selves were not a prob­lem.

The Morawetz family in front of their Greenwich Village home: Nancy, Lida, John, Pegeen, Cathleen and Herbert.

MP: Once you were at NYU, em­bed­ded in a pretty heady at­mo­sphere, you cer­tainly didn’t want to be just an av­er­age NYU pro­fess­or. You don’t like be­ing av­er­age.

Mor­awetz: That’s right. Some­times when I’m asked about my ca­reer, I say, “Look, I was such a lousy house­keep­er — I was a fail­ure at that — so I had to do a good job at something!” Sure, there was an ele­ment of that in it, you know. That’s of­ten a factor in a wo­man hav­ing a ca­reer. But there’s one thing that you mustn’t for­get — that I think is very im­port­ant. I came from an at­mo­sphere where there was a sense that a wo­man should have a ca­reer — my moth­er was in­ter­ested in that — but all that had some­how dis­ap­peared after the men came back from the second World War.

MP: That was the era of four chil­dren and a sta­tion wag­on.

Mor­awetz: That’s right. And then came the six­ties when every­body sud­denly re­dis­covered this ca­reer thing. But I had nev­er lost track of it. That is one thing I should say. The oth­er thing is that un­til the wo­men’s move­ment of the late six­ties it really was con­sidered very bad form for a wo­man to be overtly am­bi­tious, very bad form. Every­body thought that way — my col­leagues, Her­bert. It was fine for me to have a ca­reer, but not ac­tu­ally to show my am­bi­tion. Al­though it was pos­it­ive to say that a man was am­bi­tious, you could nev­er say it about a wo­man — ex­cept neg­at­ively. And I think of course that un­der­neath I was al­ways very am­bi­tious.

MP: I nev­er have had the im­pres­sion, you know, that you were out after these jobs that you have got — dir­ect­or of the Cour­ant In­sti­tute and so on. Wheth­er you cul­tiv­ated it con­sciously or sub­con­sciously, or wheth­er it was just your nature, you did not pose a threat to the men here.

Mor­awetz: I don’t think that I was really “out after these jobs” or that I posed any math­em­at­ic­al threat — well, I guess [laughs] that there are some of my col­leagues for whom I must have posed a math­em­at­ic­al threat — I was look­ing up in­stead of look­ing down.

MP: Did it seem to you an un­usu­ally long time un­til you be­came a pro­fess­or?

Mor­awetz: Oh yes! I was an­noyed about that. It took a little longer than it should have. Of course it is also true that in a way I al­ways worked part-time. I was paid four-fifths salary for many years. Her­bert al­ways said, “That’s fraud. You work more than full-time.” But I felt much bet­ter that way. No one could ques­tion, as they had at MIT, wheth­er I was really earn­ing what I was be­ing paid. So that ar­range­ment could have ac­coun­ted for the delay in the ap­point­ment.

“Administration certainly suits me. I like it.”

MP: How did your ad­min­is­trat­ive in­volve­ment at the In­sti­tute de­vel­op?

Mor­awetz: It came about as a way to keep the teach­ing down. I used to be a very nervous and un­happy teach­er, and I spent an aw­ful lot of time pre­par­ing my lec­tures. If you taught in the In­sti­tute, you taught only gradu­ate courses, so a full load was two gradu­ate courses. I just found that a big bur­den. Let me see — oh, I know how it first came about. Fritz John be­came the dir­ect­or of a di­vi­sion, and Cour­ant wor­ried that Fritz didn’t really want the job and it would be a bur­den on him, so I was made his as­sist­ant and I did the job and got in re­turn a re­duced teach­ing load.

MP: It seems to me that wo­men of­ten have a way of tak­ing care of a de­part­ment. I don’t mean just see­ing to the cof­fee. They no­tice things.

Mor­awetz: That’s true. In fact, I’ve had young wo­men com­plain that they were made the chair­man of the de­part­ment — it wasn’t a job they really I wanted — while they were still as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­ors, or prob­ably even as­sist­ant pro­fess­ors.

MP: You seem to have thrived on ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mor­awetz: It cer­tainly suits me. I like to do it.

MP: What is it that you like about ad­min­is­tra­tion?

Mor­awetz: I like the re­la­tion­ship with hu­man be­ings. Many, many years ago one of the things that made me not want to go in­to math­em­at­ics was the fact that it seemed to me a very lonely life.

MP: You saw this in your fath­er?

Mor­awetz: I saw it in my fath­er, and [laughs] my chil­dren saw it in me.

MP: Did you ever think ser­i­ously about leav­ing NYU?

Mor­awetz: There wasn’t any pos­sib­il­ity of leav­ing. Where could I go? Most places would not have hired me. So I nev­er gave leav­ing ser­i­ous thought.

MP: It has al­ways seemed to me that the Cour­ant In­sti­tute is more people-ori­ented than most math­em­at­ics de­part­ments.

Mor­awetz: That’s really true. There’s no ques­tion about that.

MP: When was it that you star­ted branch­ing out in­to the many dif­fer­ent or­gan­iz­a­tions in which you are now so act­ive?

Mor­awetz: Well, I got in­volved in the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety in the late six­ties when I went to a trust­ees’ meet­ing in New York to ask them to form a com­mit­tee on wo­men. I did not want the As­so­ci­ation for Wo­men in Math­em­at­ics to speak for all wo­men math­em­aticians. I joined them later, but at that time they were ter­rible at­tack­ers. They even at­tacked Lip­man Bers in the early days, and Bers was the best thing that ever happened to wo­men in math­em­at­ics!

MP: They later honored him.

Mor­awetz: They honored him, but that was quite a bit later. They even at­tacked Olga Taussky. It was un­be­liev­able. So I was on a com­mit­tee for dis­ad­vant­aged groups in the Math So­ci­ety, and I thought there should be a sep­ar­ate com­mit­tee for wo­men. I was ter­ribly afraid when I went be­fore the Board of Trust­ees — or it may have been the Coun­cil. Any­way, when it came my turn to speak, I said, “There’s a prob­lem with wo­men. You may have no­ticed that there are not many wo­men math­em­aticians.” At that point Saun­ders Mac Lane said, “Well, math­em­at­ics is a very dif­fi­cult sub­ject.” I was not up to cop­ing with that, but Iz Sing­er picked up the ball. The com­mit­tee was formed and I was made chair­man. That’s how I got in­volved in the Math So­ci­ety’s af­fairs. I hardly ever even went to meet­ings when I was young.

A happy but not altogether graceful landing in 1944.

MP: What do you think are the biggest prob­lems con­front­ing wo­men in math­em­at­ics today?

Mor­awetz: Well, as one of my col­leagues has poin­ted out, “Math­em­aticians don’t look very far for their wives.” The res­ult is that they’re usu­ally fel­low gradu­ate stu­dents. Wo­men math­em­aticians tend to be mar­ried to men math­em­aticians, and so they need to find two math jobs in the same geo­graph­ic­al area. That’s very hard. Then I would say that, in spite of the fact that men are — and they really are — much more help­ful and sup­port­ive these days, the bur­den of rais­ing chil­dren still falls on the wo­man — at a time that’s very im­port­ant in her ca­reer — just about when she should be get­ting ten­ure. In fact, I’m about to in­sti­tute a new plan of life, ac­cord­ing to which wo­men would have their chil­dren in their late teens and their moth­ers would bring them up. I don’t mean the moth­er would give up her ca­reer, but she’s already es­tab­lished, so she can af­ford to take time off to look after the chil­dren. Be­sides, I love be­ing a grand­moth­er!

MP: You’re not par­tic­u­larly op­tim­ist­ic about change?

Mor­awetz: No. I’m not at all op­tim­ist­ic. I think there has been a big change, but I’m not sure what would really make a turn­around. Take this busi­ness of rais­ing kids. It’s very dif­fi­cult. Some­body has to be in charge. So it’s got to be either the moth­er or the fath­er. As things are set up now, it’s the moth­er. I see it with my daugh­ters — they are the ones who are in charge of the chil­dren. It’s very nice in a way, but it’s also a han­di­cap pro­fes­sion­ally.

MP: Do you think that, ca­reer-wise, wo­men nat­ur­ally op­er­ate on a dif­fer­ent time-scale from men?

Mor­awetz: I think that there is something to that idea. Wheth­er it has to do with the en­vir­on­ment or cir­cum­stances of ad­oles­cence I don’t know. But I’ve rarely seen — no, I will say I have nev­er seen an ad­oles­cent girl who’s like, say, Gene Trubowitz age 19 or Samuel Wein­ber­ger age 18, whose whole lives are em­bed­ded in math­em­at­ics. They really live for that and that alone. I’ve nev­er run across girls like that. But I am sure they will ap­pear. To a large ex­tent it is a prob­lem of time-scale. All ca­reer pat­terns in sci­ence and in everything, in fact, are set up on the basis of the male. They ought to be some­what dif­fer­ent for wo­men, but un­til there are enough wo­men in­volved, that won’t hap­pen.

MP: What ad­vice do you give to young wo­men who are com­ing to like math­em­at­ics and to show real tal­ent?

Mor­awetz: Well, there is a big dif­fer­ence between those who want to have a fam­ily and those who don’t.

MP: But of­ten you don’t know you want a fam­ily un­til after you have had one.

Mor­awetz: That’s very true. So you have to ex­pect the guy to make some sac­ri­fices, more sac­ri­fices. That’s really what it amounts to. And I think that the ma­jor sac­ri­fice is in his stand­ard of liv­ing. But, you see, one of the main prob­lems is that there are so few mar­ry­ing men and it’s still the old thing, you know — you have to spoil them a bit to get them!

MP: Well, there are not too many mar­ry­ing men, and among those there are prob­ably not too many so-called lib­er­ated men.

Mor­awetz: Even if they are the­or­et­ic­ally lib­er­ated, there is also the dif­fi­cult thing for men, which is that un­der those cir­cum­stances they usu­ally end up be­ing bossed around. That’s a dif­fi­cult situ­ation for any­body to be in.

MP: Did any of your daugh­ters ever show an in­terest in math­em­at­ics?

Mor­awetz: Well, the second one, Lida, who is a psy­chi­at­rist, is def­in­itely very gif­ted sci­en­tific­ally. Mike Artin tried to talk her in­to stay­ing in math­em­at­ics, but she said that if she were to be a math­em­atician she would want to be a pure math­em­atician and she couldn’t see spend­ing her life do­ing any­thing so un­use­ful — fur­ther­more, life would be too lonely. Now she sees that be­ing a psy­chi­at­rist is a much more lonely life. I be­lieve to some ex­tent that she was a cas­u­alty of the anti-sci­ence at­ti­tude of the late six­ties. With me my fath­er had the at­ti­tude, well, if I wanted to do math­em­at­ics, that was fine; but he was very dis­ap­poin­ted when she didn’t go in­to math­em­at­ics.

MP: I saw in the pa­per re­cently that you just col­lec­ted an hon­or­ary de­gree from Prin­ceton.

Mor­awetz: I’m glad you brought that up be­cause one of the things that you haven’t touched on is Prin­ceton, which was really a very im­port­ant change in my life. When my young­est daugh­ter, Nancy, was an un­der­gradu­ate there, they had just gone co-ed. They had two wo­men trust­ees who were both daugh­ters and wives of Prin­ceton gradu­ates, and someone — I think it was McGeorge Bundy — came up with the idea that they should now look for a pro­fes­sion­al wo­man who had a daugh­ter at Prin­ceton. Pres­id­ent Bowen called me for an in­ter­view. I had no idea why, but Her­bert said, “They’re go­ing to make you a trust­ee.” I said, “How can you ever ima­gine that?” But, sure enough, that’s what they did. It was very in­ter­est­ing for me. Prin­ceton is so very dif­fer­ent from New York Uni­versity! There is no fin­an­cial struggle for mod­est en­deavors — they have a very gen­er­ous en­dow­ment. Of course they also hus­band their re­sources very care­fully. That was im­press­ive to me. An­oth­er thing that im­pressed me enorm­ously was that they were so gra­cious, even when they dis­agreed. I was made vice-chair­man of the cur­riculum com­mit­tee. Then Mike Blu­menth­al, who was chair­man, was made Sec­ret­ary of the Treas­ury and I be­came chair­man. The ex­per­i­ence at Prin­ceton led to oth­er things. Without it I doubt if I would ever have been chosen as a dir­ect­or of NCR or as a trust­ee of the Sloan Found­a­tion.

MP: So Prin­ceton opened up non-sci­entif­ic things, all of which you en­joy?

Mor­awetz: That’s right, al­though I worry about some of them too, you know. I real­ize that de­cisions have to be made on re­l­at­ively little in­form­a­tion. I guess all ad­min­is­trat­ors have that prob­lem. I have that prob­lem now, too. But get­ting out in­to the world was im­port­ant for me be­cause I had grown up in this co­coon at the In­sti­tute. The co­coon was nice and won­der­ful and fun, but it was good for me to get out.

MP: Well, you’ve cer­tainly done a lot of ex­cit­ing things, had a lot of firsts, a lot of hon­ors. I know that you’re not in­clined to line them up and rank them, but what have you felt es­pe­cially proud of?

Mor­awetz: I can’t really an­swer about be­ing proud of something.

MP: Well, let’s not use the word proud. What has giv­en you the most pleas­ure?

Mor­awetz: Ah, there’s no ex­cite­ment to beat the ex­cite­ment of prov­ing a the­or­em! [Laugh­ing.] Un­til you find out the next day that it’s wrong. It’s funny that I should think of it now, but I re­mem­ber when I had proved the thing about de­cay that Joe Keller had put up as an un­solved prob­lem and Clif­ford Gard­ner said, “You know, there are some things that get prin­ted. They make long and im­port­ant pa­pers. But there are oth­er things that just simply go in­to text­books.” I don’t know that mine made it in­to a text­book, but that was one of the nicest com­pli­ments I have ever had. I’ll tell you, though, there is something about be­ing a math­em­atician that is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. One of my chil­dren put it this way: It’s that you’re on stage all the time. You can’t fake or shift the sub­ject of con­ver­sa­tion and so on. That’s very de­mand­ing of people.

MP: But you like that.

Mor­awetz: I guess that in a way I do, al­though at times it’s also de­press­ing.

MP: You nev­er wanted it on a plat­ter. You told us that.

Mor­awetz: Well, that was when I was rather pur­it­an­ic­al about such things. Now I’d be will­ing to take the plat­ter!

MP: I cer­tainly think you can be sat­is­fied with your life.

Mor­awetz: Well, I am, I really am. You know, when I was eight­een or nine­teen, be­fore I went down to Que­bec, I was very de­pressed. I prob­ably should have been see­ing a shrink. But the fact is that as everything has gone — with all these “pleas­ures” of suc­cess and so on — I really nev­er come close to feel­ing acutely de­pressed any­more. I think that maybe do­ing all the things I do is a pro­tec­tion, be­cause many math­em­aticians do get de­pressed when they can’t solve a prob­lem they want to solve.

Addendum by C.S.M.

In read­ing this in­ter­view over, I find that I may have em­phas­ized the need to es­cape from the dev­ils of math­em­at­ics to em­bark on the pleas­ures of the real world. But it works both ways, and some­times the dev­ils of the real world drive one in­to the pleas­ures of study­ing math­em­at­ics.

June 1986 in South San Fran­cisco, Cali­for­nia.