Women's History Month: Dr. Cecilia Kriegar

October 22, 2018

Written by: Alicen Ricard

The last of our profiles of Canadian women in STEM for Women’s History Month is Dr. Cecilia Kriegar, a mathematician and beloved professor known for encouraging her students to go into mathematics and engineering. She was the first woman, and only the third person, in Canada to get a PhD in mathematics. She is well known for translating two works of Waclaw Sierpiński on general topology.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

She was born April 9, 1894 in Jaslo, Poland (then known as Galicia). She attended secondary school in Poland and then moved to Austria to attend the University of Vienna for the mathematics and physics program. She grew up in a family of Jewish merchants and by 1920, they were worried about the rising anti-Semitism in Europe, so they moved to Canada to escape. Kreiger didn’t know a lot of English so she took private lessons, in order to continue her education in Canada. During her summers she worked at an inn in Muskoka, Ontario to be able to pay for tuition.

After getting a BA in mathematics at the University of Toronto, she started her graduate studies there as well, focusing on principles of mechanics and number and set theory. She completed her masters in 1925 and started working on doctorate work under W.J. Webber. Her research focused on theory of functions and calculus. Her dissertation was “On the summability of Trigonometric series with localized properties—on Fourier constants and convergence factors of double Fourier series”. It was published in two parts, one in 1928 and one in 1930 in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada. She completed her PhD in 1930.

Source: The Canadian Math Society

She was an instructor at the University of Toronto’s Mathematics department while she was getting her PhD and after she completed it, she was promoted to lecturer. However, before she took that job, she decided to spend a year at the University of Gottinger in Germany first. Once she returned to Canada to take the job she didn’t get promoted to assistant lecturer until 1941. She taught thirteen classes a week in mathematics and engineering, with up to seventy-five students per class. This left very little time for anything else, but she still managed to work on her own research projects in the evenings. In 1952 she was promoted to associate professor.  She officially retired from the math department in 1961, but she kept teaching at the university for five more years. She was known for helping students and even held socials in her home. She was also an active participant in the Canadian Association of University Women.

She was a key provider for her sisters after their husbands died. She got married in 1953. After he died in 1968 she started teaching again, this time at Upper Canada college. She continued to teach there until she died in 1974. In 1995 the Kriegar-Nelson prize was created to honour an outstanding woman in mathematics.

The other woman the Kriegar-Nelson Prize is named for is Dr. Evelen Merle Nelson. You can read our profile on her here