Celebratio Mathematica

Julia Robinson

Being Julia Robinson’s sister

by Constance Reid

When I was asked to speak to­night, I could not re­fuse. This is a truly cel­eb­rat­ory oc­ca­sion, and I feel that as Ju­lia’s sis­ter I should be here. Yet I find my­self in a very dif­fi­cult po­s­i­tion. Here I am to speak about Ju­lia, and be­ing spoken about is the last thing Ju­lia would want. As a math­em­atician, as was done by Car­ol Wood on Monday morn­ing, yes. But as a per­son, no.

So I de­cided my sub­ject would be simply “Be­ing Ju­lia Robin­son’s Sis­ter”. That is the one sub­ject con­nec­ted with Ju­lia that I can talk freely about, be­cause it’s my life, not Ju­lia’s. But in the course of the even­ing, talk­ing about our sis­ter­hood — from not so much a per­son­al point of view as from what one might call “a point of view per­tain­ing some­what to math­em­at­ics” — I can tell you something about Ju­lia that will not vi­ol­ate her de­sire for per­son­al pri­vacy and something also about the feel­ings that she ex­pressed to me on the sub­ject of her oth­er sis­ters — all the wo­men here and the oth­ers who are math­em­aticians.

Ju­lia was born twenty-three months after I was, es­sen­tially two years — the worst pos­sible dif­fer­ence in age for sib­lings, in my opin­ion: close enough for the young­er to al­most catch up with the eld­er, who is nev­er­the­less al­ways just a little bit ahead. I have to con­fess that as chil­dren we fought al­most all the time. My earli­est memory of Ju­lia is of her tear­ing the hair off my doll while I poked the eyes out of hers! We were not close. In ad­di­tion to age and sib­ling rivalry sep­ar­at­ing us, there was also a ser­i­ous ill­ness that was to keep Ju­lia away from home for a year and out of school from the time she was nine un­til she was thir­teen. It was to af­fect her en­tire life, pre­vent­ing her from hav­ing the chil­dren she very much wanted and mak­ing it phys­ic­ally im­possible for her to take on the rig­ors of a full-time pro­fes­sion­al po­s­i­tion at Berke­ley.

While I could tell you something about these early years, I prefer to con­cen­trate on that longer peri­od of our lives that ex­ten­ded up to Ju­lia’s death when we were very close. That peri­od began in 1950 when I mar­ried and moved to San Fran­cisco and Ju­lia re­turned to Berke­ley after a year at the RAND Cor­por­a­tion in Santa Mon­ica. At that time she had been mar­ried since 1941 to Raphael Robin­son, who had been her num­ber the­ory teach­er at Berke­ley; she had got­ten her Ph.D. in 1948 un­der Al­fred Tarski with an im­port­ant res­ult in a com­bin­a­tion of lo­gic and num­ber the­ory, and at RAND she had solved an im­port­ant prob­lem in game the­ory. She had also be­gun to work on Hil­bert’s Tenth Prob­lem. I knew prac­tic­ally noth­ing about these math­em­at­ic­al achieve­ments or in­terests. Once, a year or two be­fore, when Ju­lia came home to San Diego for a vis­it, she had tried to ex­plain to me what she had done in her thes­is. I did not have the faintest idea what she was talk­ing about or why it was sig­ni­fic­ant, but I re­mem­ber feel­ing a little sorry for her be­cause she could not ex­plain something im­port­ant that she had done even to her sis­ter. Oddly enough, I did not feel sorry for my­self for not be­ing able to un­der­stand.

Later in the time I am talk­ing about, when not only I but our en­tire fam­ily had mi­grated from San Diego to the Bay Area, Ju­lia and I saw a lot of each oth­er. We met for lunch in San Fran­cisco and shopped fur­niture stores and talked end­lessly both in per­son and on the phone. We had many com­mon in­terests. She was a house­wife who did math­em­at­ics, and I was a house­wife who wrote. There was also polit­ics — this was the era of Joseph Mc­Carthy and the in­fam­ous Loy­alty Oath at Berke­ley.

When we got to­geth­er as a fam­ily, which we fre­quently did, Raphael liked to make con­ver­sa­tion with me by telling me things about math­em­at­ics. He was a re­mark­able ex­pos­it­or, as some of you know, and he told me about Gödel’s work, and Tur­ing ma­chines, and the the­ory of sets, and the pearls of num­ber the­ory, and \( n \)-di­men­sion­al geo­metry, and knot the­ory — maybe even about Hil­bert’s prob­lems. I was some­what used to such “teach­ing”, be­cause dur­ing a brief peri­od in col­lege when Ju­lia and I shared a room she used to tell me about things she had read in Men of Math­em­at­ics, which had just ap­peared at that time.

Well, all this ef­fort on the part of both Robin­sons was to bear fruit one morn­ing in 1951 when Ju­lia, in the course of a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion, re­por­ted to me the suc­cess of a pro­gram of Raphael’s for test­ing the prim­al­ity of very large Mersenne num­bers on one of the new gi­ant com­puters — this one was SWAC (the Bur­eau of Stand­ards West­ern Auto­mat­ic Com­puter). These com­puters, which were pop­ularly called “gi­ant brains”, had been in­ven­ted dur­ing the Second World War and had been known to the pub­lic for only about five years. Ju­lia also ex­plained to me the con­nec­tion between Mersenne num­bers and “per­fect” num­bers. This achieve­ment of Raphael’s in­ter­ested me; it struck me as something I could write about that would in­terest oth­er people too.

Ju­lia promptly en­cour­aged me, in a very prac­tic­al way, by in­vit­ing me to lunch with Dick Lehmer, the math­em­atician in charge of SWAC, so that I could find out from him what SWAC looked like and how it was op­er­ated. At that time neither Raphael nor Ju­lia had ever ac­tu­ally seen one of the new com­puters, and it is still re­mark­able, even to ex­perts, that Raphael had suc­cess­fully pro­grammed SWAC simply by study­ing the manu­al. Well, Dick was help­ful, and his wife, Emma, was help­ful, too; it was she who sug­ges­ted that I send my art­icle to Sci­entif­ic Amer­ic­an. To make a long story short, Sci­entif­ic Amer­ic­an pub­lished it, a pub­lish­er read it and wrote to ask if I, Con­stance Re­id, who had left math­em­at­ics for Lat­in in her sopho­more year in high school, would be in­ter­ested in writ­ing a little book on num­bers for him.

Now what still amazes me is that Ju­lia did not try to talk me out of this pro­ject but ac­tu­ally en­cour­aged me. Raphael did not en­cour­age me, but he was not neg­at­ive either. The pub­lish­er was think­ing about a book on num­bers to go with a book he had pub­lished on the al­pha­bet. This sug­ges­ted to me a book about the di­gits, since the Sci­entif­ic Amer­ic­an art­icle had been in a way a story about “6” as the first per­fect num­ber. I thought I would just treat the oth­er di­gits in a sim­il­ar fash­ion: a mix­ture of num­ber the­ory, his­tory, and what you might call nu­mer­o­logy. Ju­lia and Raphael seemed to think that I could do that. Later, though, when I got to the chapter on “9”, which was to be about “cast­ing out 9s” and oth­er such checks, Raphael in­sisted that there should be some real math­em­at­ics in the book, so he ex­plained con­gru­ences to me and the Law of Quad­rat­ic Re­cipro­city.

Well, that first book, From Zero to In­fin­ity, was something of a suc­cess: it has been in print now for forty-some years. One book led to an­oth­er and an­oth­er, and these I wrote more and more on my own, al­though Ju­lia and Raphael al­ways read the fin­ished manuscripts.

While I was writ­ing these books, hand­ling the fin­an­cial side of my hus­band’s law prac­tice, rais­ing my chil­dren, and work­ing to im­prove the San Fran­cisco pub­lic schools, Ju­lia had be­come so ab­sorbed in polit­ics that she had vir­tu­ally giv­en up math­em­at­ics.

You know that Ju­lia was a solv­er of math­em­at­ic­al prob­lems, but do you know that she put her mind to all sorts of oth­er prob­lems — re­l­at­ively small prob­lems like how Mar­ina Rat­ner’s little daugh­ter could learn Eng­lish quickly and en­joy­ably (Ju­lia’s solu­tion was to give her stor­ies about Nancy Drew) and lar­ger prob­lems of the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (and it had plenty of prob­lems dur­ing those years), the Demo­crat­ic Party, the United States, the world.

I can give you an ex­ample of Ju­lia’s non-math­em­at­ic­al prob­lem solv­ing on a ma­jor scale. In 1952, when Ad­lai Steven­son was badly de­feated by Eis­en­hower and the Demo­crat­ic Party was in what can best be de­scribed as dis­ar­ray, Ju­lia was con­cerned about the fact that the in­tel­lec­tu­al grass­roots sup­port for Steven­son was sep­ar­at­ing it­self from the Demo­crat­ic Party and from party polit­ics. She de­cided that her sis­ter Con­stance should con­vey her ideas in a let­ter to the ed­it­or of the New Re­pub­lic, since in her view I could write and she could not. Well, this past Sunday I went down to the lib­rary and looked up that let­ter. There it was: a column and a third at the be­gin­ning of the Let­ters to the Ed­it­or column in the New Re­pub­lic of Janu­ary 26, 1953. It was odd to read it. The words were Con­stance Re­id’s, but the polit­ic­al pas­sion was Ju­lia Robin­son’s! The let­ter ap­peared just be­fore an im­port­ant meet­ing of Demo­crat­ic Party lead­ers at As­ilo­mar, to which in­ter­ested cit­izens were also in­vited. At Ju­lia’s ur­ging my hus­band and I went with her and Raphael. We found to our amazement that all the big­wigs at the meet­ing were talk­ing about my let­ter and were ask­ing, “Who is this Con­stance Re­id?” I know people have some­times sus­pec­ted that Con­stance Re­id was really Ju­lia Robin­son, and on this oc­ca­sion it was so. I do not re­mem­ber ex­actly what happened, but the end res­ult was that Ju­lia in­volved her­self dur­ing the fol­low­ing half dozen years in the nitty-gritty of Demo­crat­ic Party polit­ics: she re­gistered voters, stuffed en­vel­opes, and rang door­bells in neigh­bor­hoods where people ex­pec­ted to be paid for their vote. She even served as Alan Cran­ston’s cam­paign man­ager for Con­tra Costa County when he suc­cess­fully ran for state con­trol­ler, his first polit­ic­al of­fice.

This polit­ic­al peri­od of Ju­lia’s life ended about 1960 when, her phys­ic­al con­di­tion hav­ing be­come much worse, she un­der­went ma­jor heart sur­gery. The sur­gery greatly im­proved her gen­er­al health, al­though she still lacked the stam­ina of a nor­mal per­son; and when she taught a single class at Berke­ley, as she fre­quently did, everything else had to be put on hold.

At this time, after writ­ing three books ex­plain­ing math­em­at­ics to lay­men, I felt that I had ex­hausted not math­em­at­ics, but the math­em­at­ics that I was cap­able of ex­plain­ing. So I was rather at loose ends in my writ­ing. I wanted to do something dif­fer­ent. Well, after three pop­u­lar books about math­em­at­ics Ju­lia had be­gun to think of me, not only as a writ­ing as­set, but as an as­set to math­em­at­ics. One day she came across an ob­it­u­ary of some math­em­atician who had re­cently died. She read it with in­terest and, re­mem­ber­ing what E. T. Bell’s Men of Math­em­at­ics had meant to her when she was a col­lege stu­dent, she de­cided it would be good for stu­dents to be able to read about more mod­ern math­em­aticians than those in Bell, math­em­aticians whose names were also at­tached to the­or­ems in their text­books.

Constance should update E. T. Bell

To set this pro­posed pro­ject in the con­text of Ju­lia’s math­em­at­ic­al ca­reer, I should say that she and Mar­tin Dav­is and Hil­ary Put­nam had just pub­lished their joint pa­per, “The de­cision prob­lem for ex­po­nen­tial Di­o­phant­ine equa­tions”, but Ju­lia was be­com­ing some­what dis­cour­aged about her ideas on the sub­ject. A year or so be­fore, again at As­ilo­mar, she had ex­plained the Tenth Prob­lem to me. By this time I had a little more un­der­stand­ing than I had had when she ex­plained her thes­is. She had said to me then — which had im­pressed me greatly — that she did not care wheth­er she solved the prob­lem her­self, she just had to know the an­swer, she would not want to die without know­ing.

It was dur­ing this peri­od that she came up with the idea of my writ­ing a col­lec­tion of short bio­graph­ies of mod­ern math­em­aticians, and she spent a great many hours with me go­ing through Math Re­views and mak­ing out three-by-five cards for all the ob­it­u­ar­ies, mem­oirs, auto­bi­o­graph­ies, and bio­graph­ies of math­em­aticians that we could find between the first is­sue in 1940 and the most re­cent one in 1964. I should men­tion that in 1964, al­though there were lots of ob­it­u­ar­ies, there were no full-length bio­graph­ies. There were two auto­bi­o­graph­ies, Norbert Wien­er’s Ex-prodigy and G. H. Hardy’s A Math­em­atician’s Apo­logy, which was some­what auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al. That was all. This situ­ation has changed dra­mat­ic­ally in the in­ter­im, as you know — if not in num­bers, at least in per­cent­ages.

Well, Ju­lia was very per­sist­ent, and I be­came in­ter­ested if not ex­cited, so we de­cided to go to Europe, where I could ab­sorb loc­al col­or and in­ter­view some re­l­at­ives of the math­em­aticians on our list, all of whom had been born after the First World War and had died.

It happened that, at the time, Ju­lia was audit­ing a class of Al­fred Tarski’s in which the per­son who al­ways ar­ranged to sit next to her was a young Ph.D. from Göttin­gen, a probabal­ist then, named Volk­er Strassen. She told him that her sis­ter was plan­ning to write a book about men and wo­men of mod­ern math­em­at­ics, and Volk­er said that of course then we must come to Göttin­gen and when we came he would show us around.

It was on that trip that I first real­ized the re­spect in which Ju­lia was held by oth­er math­em­aticians.

Volk­er’s Ph.D. ad­viser, Kon­rad Jakobs, was eager to en­ter­tain us — rather, to en­ter­tain Ju­lia. It was clear that Volk­er had scored a coup with his “Dok­t­or­vater” by bring­ing her to Göttin­gen. (In­cid­ent­ally, Ju­lia told me later that it was her pa­per on game the­ory, the only pa­per she ever wrote on that sub­ject, which so in­ter­ested Jakobs.) Volk­er him­self, whose wife was mo­ment­ar­ily ex­pect­ing their second child, told us that if the baby was a girl — in those days people did not know be­fore the event — he was go­ing to name her Ju­lia. The baby was born while we were still in Göttin­gen but turned out to be a boy, so Volk­er named him Tyko after Ty­cho Brahe, which showed me the class Ju­lia was in as far as Volk­er was con­cerned.

The res­ult of our vis­it to Göttin­gen, however, was that I aban­doned the pro­ject of up­dat­ing E. T. Bell and de­cided that I, who knew al­most noth­ing about math­em­at­ics but what Ju­lia and Raphael had ex­plained to me, would write a life of Dav­id Hil­bert.

I should say here that Ju­lia had not sug­ges­ted that I write about Hil­bert. I came to him on my own; Hil­bert simply en­chanted me as he had en­chanted all the young math­em­aticians and phys­i­cists who had flocked to study with him in Göttin­gen. But if you think Ju­lia tried to dis­cour­age her math­em­at­ic­ally un­trained sis­ter from writ­ing the life of the greatest math­em­atician of the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, you did not know Ju­lia.

For my birth­day she gave me the three volumes of Hil­bert’s col­lec­ted works, and when her math­em­at­ic­al friends in­quired about my qual­i­fic­a­tions for writ­ing the life of Hil­bert, she told them with a per­fectly straight face that I was read­ing all his pa­pers.

(In­cid­ent­ally, I did read all the words in Hil­bert’s col­lec­ted works — math­em­aticians of those days wrote more in words than they write today — and Hil­bert’s were quite en­light­en­ing in re­gard to his ideas and feel­ings about math­em­at­ics.)

Ju­lia then sug­ges­ted that I in­ter­view math­em­aticians in the area who had ac­tu­ally known Hil­bert: Lewy, Pólya, Szegö, even Siegel, who was passing through Pa­lo Alto on his way back to Ger­many. But I was hes­it­ant about talk­ing to real math­em­aticians about writ­ing about Hil­bert — Ju­lia and Raphael, OK; they were fam­ily, but Carl Lud­wig Siegel? I re­mem­ber Ju­lia’s say­ing slyly, “You’re afraid they will find out that you’re a hoax, Con­stance” — which, of course, I was.

Now, even a quarter of cen­tury after the pub­lic­a­tion of Hil­bert and the oth­er bio­graph­ies that have fol­lowed, I still do not really un­der­stand why Ju­lia en­cour­aged me as she did when I might have dis­graced, cer­tainly em­bar­rassed, both her and Raphael.

I think that per­haps at least part of the ex­plan­a­tion lies in something Ju­lia said to Olga Taussky after Hil­bert was pub­lished and was an un­ex­pec­ted suc­cess among math­em­aticians. Olga was com­plain­ing that there were oth­er im­port­ant things that she would have told me about her math­em­at­ic­al re­la­tion­ship to Hil­bert if she had known “that EVERY­BODY was go­ing to read the book,” but many people had come in the past to talk to her about her days in Göttin­gen and then noth­ing had ever happened, so she had thought it would be the same with me.

“Olga,” Ju­lia said, “you should have known that the Bow­man girls al­ways fin­ish what they start.”

At that time Ju­lia had not been a Bow­man for thirty years, and I had not been a Bow­man for twenty; but I think that the strong sense our par­ents con­veyed to us that be­ing a Bow­man was something spe­cial, al­though in ac­tu­al­ity the Bowmans were quite or­din­ary people, was at the found­a­tion of Ju­lia’s sense of her­self, and of course she knew it had rubbed off on me too. I might write as Con­stance Re­id, but at bot­tom I was Con­stance Bow­man.

Well, after Hil­bert I wrote a life of Richard Cour­ant at the sug­ges­tion of K. O. Friedrichs, who be­came my math­em­at­ic­al col­lab­or­at­or in that pro­ject. I can­not say that Ju­lia and Raphael were ex­actly “miffed” to see me go­ing off on my own, but they did feel a little out of it, al­though both of them read the manuscript.

Nat­ur­ally, after I had writ­ten Hil­bert and Cour­ant, and Ju­lia had be­come fam­ous, and Saun­ders Mac Lane had pro­posed her for mem­ber­ship in the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences, and Al­fred Tarski and Jerzy Ney­man, who were old and not well and who didn’t much care for each oth­er, had both made the trip back to Wash­ing­ton, DC, just so that they would be present to help ex­plain the im­port­ance of Ju­lia’s work, people began to make what they al­ways thought was an ori­gin­al sug­ges­tion: why don’t you write a life of your sis­ter?

The truth of the mat­ter is that I nev­er con­sidered do­ing so.

I knew Ju­lia and I knew my­self, and neither of us would want our bio­graph­ies writ­ten by any­one. I did think, however, that Ju­lia should let her­self be in­ter­viewed for More Math­em­at­ic­al People, which I was help­ing to edit, be­cause — and this was a telling point — she had ob­jec­ted in re­gard to the earli­er book, Math­em­at­ic­al People, that it had con­tained in­ter­views with three wo­men — me, Mina Rees, and Olga Taussky Todd — people, not math­em­aticians, be­ing the op­er­at­ive word in the title — but only one of the three was a re­search math­em­atician.

“Ju­lia,” I said, “how can you ob­ject when you your­self re­fused to be in­ter­viewed?”

She of course had no an­swer to that.

Well, after her elec­tion to the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences in 1976 — you have all heard, I am sure, the story about Ju­lia’s be­ing iden­ti­fied as “Pro­fess­or Robin­son’s wife” when the uni­versity press of­fice called the math­em­at­ics de­part­ment to find out just who Ju­lia Robin­son was — Berke­ley star­ted to think how it could get this new aca­dem­i­cian in­to its stable. There was the prob­lem that Ju­lia be­cause of her health, al­though it was much im­proved, did not want and could not handle the rig­ors of a full pro­fess­or­ship.

(In­cid­ent­ally, Ju­lia once told Cath­leen Mor­awetz — this must have been in the early 1970s when she and Raphael began to talk about his re­tir­ing early so he could de­vote more of his time to math­em­at­ics — that what she would really like was to share a job with him, but I am sure she had nev­er sug­ges­ted this to any­body in the Berke­ley de­part­ment. Cer­tainly I had nev­er heard any­thing about it nor, ac­cord­ing to Raphael, had he, but it is a kind of “Ju­lia solu­tion” to a prob­lem.)

Well, to go back, after she was elec­ted to the Academy, the Berke­ley math­em­at­ics de­part­ment came up with the idea of of­fer­ing her a full pro­fess­or­ship with the duty of teach­ing just one-fourth time, which was just about ex­actly what she had been do­ing for a num­ber of years. The de­part­ment seems to have been a little con­cerned about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of such an of­fer, be­cause the chair­man con­sul­ted Saun­ders Mac Lane, who re­cently sent me a copy of his re­sponse:

“In my opin­ion it would be em­in­ently ap­pro­pri­ate that Dr. Robin­son re­ceive a pro­fess­or­i­al ap­point­ment, un­der such part-time ar­range­ment as may be mu­tu­ally agree­able,” Mac Lane wrote. “Her ac­com­plish­ments in math­em­at­ic­al lo­gic and re­lated top­ics are, in my con­sidered opin­ion, out­stand­ing and would jus­ti­fy her ap­point­ment as a Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Pro­fess­or, or its equi­val­ent, at any lead­ing Amer­ic­an uni­versity, but most ap­pro­pri­ately at the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia at Berke­ley.”

As you know, Ju­lia ac­cep­ted Berke­ley’s of­fer. But that was not the end. She was showered with more and more hon­ors. I can still hear her, tele­phon­ing me about some new award, say­ing, al­most in des­pair — any­way in mock des­pair — “Con­stance, what next?”

This may in fact have been when she was asked if she was will­ing to have her name put up as the un­op­posed can­did­ate for pres­id­ent of the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety. Raphael did not think that she should ac­cept but should save her en­ergy for math­em­at­ics, as he would have done. He did not try to im­pose his view on her; he simply stated his opin­ion. But when she con­sul­ted me, I said that I felt there was no way she could not ac­cept, and she agreed, not be­cause it was my opin­ion, but be­cause it was the same as her own. It might be a long time be­fore an­oth­er wo­man math­em­atician was offered the po­s­i­tion. In fact, of course, it was al­most ten years.

I should tell you, however, that Raphael ac­cep­ted Ju­lia’s de­cision with grace, cook­ing and tak­ing care of him­self dur­ing her many ab­sences.

So here my sis­ter was, fam­ous for her math­em­at­ic­al work and fam­ous for her “firsts”, stead­fastly re­fus­ing to be writ­ten about. “Dear So and So,” she wrote to someone who wanted to in­clude her in a book about wo­men sci­ent­ists, “I am of course very flattered to be con­sidered for your book, but I must ask you not to write about me. I am ap­palled at the pro­spect of de­tails of my life and be­liefs ap­pear­ing in print. (I don’t even want to be writ­ten about after I’m dead but that is dif­fi­cult to man­age.) This has noth­ing to do with your abil­it­ies and qual­i­fic­a­tions, as I will con­tin­ue in the fu­ture to dis­cour­age any ac­count of my life.”

In her view a math­em­atician was his or her work; per­son­al­ity/per­son­al de­tails could do noth­ing to il­lu­min­ate that and so were of no im­port­ance. She de­tested what she saw as the cult of per­son­al­ity: the pry­ing in­to every as­pect of what was private that was and still is pre­val­ent in bio­graph­ic­al — and, for that mat­ter, auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al — writ­ing.

Al­though I felt very much the same, I thought that her po­s­i­tion in re­la­tion to any writ­ing about her life and views was lo­gic­ally un­ten­able. She, however, stub­bornly main­tained that po­s­i­tion un­til it was clear to her and to me that she was go­ing to die.

Then I brought forth my most telling ar­gu­ment. Giv­en her achieve­ments, some­body was bound to write a bio­graphy of her. How much bet­ter if her sis­ter wrote it and she her­self had the op­por­tun­ity to ap­prove it! She fi­nally agreed.

On June 30, 1985 — as it turned out, just thirty days be­fore she died — we had an in­ter­view about what she re­called as sig­ni­fic­ant about her life. She was ly­ing on the couch in her liv­ing room and Raphael was present, al­though he nev­er said a word or even made a sound, ex­cept to agree with a chuckle that Ju­lia was in­deed very stub­born.

Al­most im­me­di­ately I got the idea of writ­ing her life, in im­it­a­tion of Ger­trude Stein, as “The Auto­bi­o­graphy of Ju­lia Robin­son”. I think this was be­cause Ju­lia had told me at this time how struck she had been by something Kay Boyle had writ­ten to the ef­fect that the only reas­on for writ­ing one’s auto­bi­o­graphy was to give cred­it where cred­it was due. There were people to whom Ju­lia very much wanted to give cred­it. Bey­ond our par­ents and oth­ers from her early days, these were all men. A young as­sist­ant pro­fess­or at San Diego State Col­lege who, in op­pos­i­tion to the head of his de­part­ment, told her to go and to go to Berke­ley. Her hus­band, Raphael Robin­son, of whom she said that she did not think she would have be­come a math­em­atician if it had not been for him. Al­fred Tarski, her thes­is ad­viser, whose math­em­at­ics was so com­pletely right for Ju­lia that it is hard to ima­gine her ca­reer if he had not come to Berke­ley when he did. Jerzy Ney­man, who by provid­ing fin­an­cial sup­port made it pos­sible for her to con­tin­ue gradu­ate study at Berke­ley after she got her A.B. Yuri Mati­jasevich, who provided the last thing that was needed to prove that the solu­tion of the Tenth Prob­lem is in­deed neg­at­ive and whose friend­ship and col­lab­or­a­tion over the bar­ri­ers of age, sex, geo­graphy, and the cold war were so sat­is­fy­ing to her dur­ing the last years of her life.

I worked very hard on the “auto­bi­o­graphy”, know­ing I was work­ing against time, and each day read what I had writ­ten to Ju­lia, who was back in the hos­pit­al. She listened at­tent­ively, mak­ing sug­ges­tions or de­le­tions. Today when I re­read the “auto­bi­o­graphy”, I feel that I am read­ing something that Ju­lia her­self wrote. It is an eer­ie sen­sa­tion.

“The Auto­bi­o­graphy of Ju­lia Robin­son” was pub­lished in the Col­lege Math­em­at­ics Journ­al in 1986 and re­prin­ted in More Math­em­at­ic­al People in 1990. I felt that I had done all that was needed. Then, at the be­gin­ning of 1995, Raphael Robin­son died, and I be­came the ex­ecut­or of his es­tate. Since he had not dis­posed of Ju­lia’s pa­pers, pho­to­graphs, and mem­or­ab­il­ia when she died ten years earli­er, I be­came her ex­ecut­or as well. This was the last ser­vice I was called upon to per­form for my sis­ter, a sort of clos­ure of our “some­what math­em­at­ic­al” re­la­tion­ship.

I knew very well Ju­lia’s feel­ings about pri­vacy, and I tried to ob­serve them in mak­ing de­cisions. I gave her math­em­at­ic­al let­ters to the Ban­croft Lib­rary with the pro­viso that noth­ing per­son­al was to be quoted without my per­mis­sion. I co­oper­ated with the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety in its wish to pub­lish her col­lec­ted pa­pers along with the very fine mem­oir So­lomon Fe­fer­man had writ­ten for the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences. But after I had dis­posed of the math­em­at­ic­al cor­res­pond­ence and the math­em­at­ic­al pa­pers, there were still many pho­to­graphs and much mem­or­ab­il­ia. I could not help wish­ing that I had had these to il­lus­trate the “auto­bi­o­graphy”, par­tic­u­larly those that were rel­ev­ant, al­though not tech­nic­ally math­em­at­ic­al, to Ju­lia’s math­em­at­ic­al ca­reer. It seemed that something more about Ju­lia was wanted: a book that could be placed in the hands, not only of pro­fes­sion­al math­em­aticians, but of math­em­at­ics teach­ers and stu­dents and even non-math­em­aticians. My first thought was per­haps the “auto­bi­o­graphy” should be re­prin­ted in a little book of its own and ex­pan­ded with some of the il­lus­trat­ive ma­ter­i­al that I had found among Ju­lia’s things, yet nev­er go­ing bey­ond the con­tent of the “auto­bi­o­graphy”, which was all she had wanted to leave as a re­cord of her life. But then I felt that the book should in­clude as well something about Ju­lia’s math­em­at­ic­al work that gave a sense of the char­ac­ter of her thought and the per­son­al warmth that she brought to col­lab­or­a­tion. So I asked Lisl Gaal, Mar­tin Dav­is, and Yuri Mati­jasevich for per­mis­sion to re­print art­icles they had writ­ten earli­er that had been pub­lished in widely sep­ar­ated places. The res­ult of our “col­lab­or­a­tion”, the book Ju­lia, a life in math­em­at­ics, is be­ing pub­lished by the Math­em­at­ic­al As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica.1

I do not feel that I want to profit from these books about Ju­lia, so I am donat­ing my share of the roy­al­ties from the col­lec­ted works and all the roy­al­ties from Ju­lia to the San Diego High School Found­a­tion to fund a Ju­lia Bow­man Robin­son Prize at the high school where, after the sopho­more year, she was the only girl tak­ing math­em­at­ics. The prize is not gender-des­ig­nated. It is simply to go to the best math­em­at­ics stu­dent in the gradu­at­ing class. Last year it happened that it went to a young man and this year to a young wo­man; and I un­der­stand from their teach­er, a re­mark­able and ded­ic­ated wo­man, that the ra­tio of fe­males to males in the ad­vanced math­em­at­ics class is now 50:50.

Ju­lia firmly be­lieved that there is no reas­on that wo­men can­not be math­em­aticians, and she just as firmly be­lieved that there should be af­firm­at­ive ac­tion to bring wo­men onto math­em­at­ic­al fac­ulties at col­leges and uni­versit­ies. “If we do not change any­thing,” she said to me in that last in­ter­view, “then noth­ing will change.” She did not ex­pect the ra­tio to be 50:50, but she felt that af­firm­at­ive ac­tion should con­tin­ue un­til male math­em­aticians no longer con­sidered the pres­ence of fe­male math­em­aticians to be un­usu­al.

Ju­lia thought of math­em­aticians — these were her words once to a group of young people — ”as form­ing a na­tion of our own without dis­tinc­tions of geo­graph­ic­al ori­gins, race, creed, sex, age, or even time (the math­em­aticians of the past and you of the fu­ture are our col­leagues too) — all ded­ic­ated to the most beau­ti­ful of the arts and sci­ences.”

As the non-math­em­at­ic­al sis­ter of the math­em­atician Ju­lia Robin­son, I would like to close with that thought.