Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Oswald Veblen Profiled in Princeton Magazine on His 140th Birthday

On this, the summer of Oswald Veblen's 140th birthday, the story of his life and legacy made it into the radiant glossy pages of the Princeton Magazine. An article entitled The Extraordinary Legacy of Oswald Veblen by Don Gilpin captures the breadth and depth of Veblen's 80 years on the planet, most of it spent in Princeton, first at Princeton University and then at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Gilpin weaves in quotes from Steve Batterson's article, “The Vision, Insight, and Influence of Oswald Veblen," and from Princeton University President Eisgruber's 2020 State of the University report.

What we've come to know is that Princeton would not be Princeton, and the Institute would not be the Institute, without the vision and quiet persistence of this man. He brought something of his Norwegian ancestry and midwestern egalitarian sensibilities eastward from Iowa, while his wife to be, Elizabeth Richardson, brought her charm, tea, and love of gardening westward from England. They met in Princeton and together they changed the world for the better, near and far.

The article also tells the story of our nonprofit, the Friends of Herrontown Woods, which is applying a dose of Veblen's quiet persistence to restore and revivify the Veblens' physical legacy--the house, cottage and 95 acres they left behind for the public to enjoy. We now have the lease the article mentioned, and can proceed with repairs to the 1931 house and the 1875 cottage, both of which have been patiently awaiting the attention they deserve.

The photos in the article are courtesy of the Institute for Advanced Study archives, including this photo of the Veblens at the American Mathematical Society's 1950 International Congress, presided over by Veblen at age 70, as he was retiring from the IAS. Now, twice as distant in time from Veblen's birth in the hill country of Iowa, Don Gilpin's article is a fitting tribute to a legacy that keeps on giving.