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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 690

Papers of Alice Turner Schafer, 1944-2012 (inclusive), 1980-1997 (bulk)


Correspondence, articles, photographs, oral history transcripts, and other papers of mathematics professor Alice Turner Schafer.


  • 1944-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1980-1997

Language of Materials

Most material in English; some material in Chinese.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Although most of the papers are open to research, those folders access to which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy are restricted as noted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Alice Turner Schafer is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


3.13 linear feet ((7 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, 4 photograph folders, 1 object)

This collection documents the personal and professional life of Alice Turner Schafer and contains correspondence, minutes, talks, photographs, conference materials, math problems, memoranda, articles, awards, oral history transcripts, recommendations, and student grade books. The bulk documents her work with mathematical societies such as the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and her United Nations People to People Citizen Ambassador trips to the People's Republic of China. She maintained close ties with colleagues she met along the way, and was honored in 1989 by the Association for Women in Mathematics with the Alice T. Schafer prize for undergraduate women for excellence in mathematics. Papers received in 2012 from Erica Dakin Voolich (#8.9), were added to the collection in 2013. Listed in the finding aid where they belong intellectually, they are boxed at the end of the collection. Original folder headings were maintained; titles in brackets were created by the archivist.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1944-2010, n.d. (#1.1-1.18, PD.1), includes Schafer's passport, curriculum vitae, obituaries, articles by and about her, e-mails, family letters, awards, oral history transcripts, and personal financial records. Of note are the oral history transcripts in which Schafer tells her life story in detail. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL, 1962-2012 (#1.19-4.18, 8.9, PD.2-PD.4), includes correspondence, recommendations, photographs, student grade books, speeches and talks given by Schafer. She chaired the American Mathematical Society's Committee on Human Rights of Mathematics, and served on several other committees for that organization. She was on the Mathematical Association of America's visiting lecturer series, and served as chair of its development committee. The majority of Schafer's talks were about mathematical education and women in mathematics. Of note are the materials from her several trips to China, many contain letters to Schafer from Chinese colleagues. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series III, ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN IN MATHEMATICS, 1980-2005 (#4.19-8.8), includes correspondence, reports, meeting minutes and agendas, conference materials, mathematics problems, speeches, financial records, grants, and awards. Schafer served as third chair of what became the Joint Committee on Women in the Mathematical Sciences (JCW), and edited the membership directory in 1981. She also served on the first selection committee of the AWM Alice T. Schafer Prize, the Sonia Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day Committee, and the AWM's speaker's bureau. Schafer was instrumental in securing space on the Wellesley College campus for AWM's office in the 1970s and for ensuring that AWM's archives would be held at Wellesley when the AWM office moved to the University of Maryland in 1993. The Sonia Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day was started in 1986 at Radcliffe College and Simmons College and were aiming to introduce women high school students and high school teachers to applications of mathematics and to encourage both students and teachers to think of mathematics as an appropriate field for women to enter. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, OVERSIZED AND MEMORABILIA, 1987-1996, n.d. (#FD.1, F+D.1, OD.1, Mem.1), includes the oversized material and memorabilia removed from throughout the collection.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Alice Elizabeth Turner Schafer was born on June 18, 1915, in Richmond, Virginia, to Cleon (Dermott) and John Turner. Both of her parents died while she was very young, and she was raised by two aunts, Pearl Dickerson and Beulah (Dickerson) Rogers. Schafer studied mathematics at Westhampton College at University of Richmond (B.A. 1936), and the University of Chicago (S.M. 1940, Ph.D. 1942). She married mathematician Richard Donald Schafer in 1942. After their graduation in 1942, Richard joined the Navy, and Alice took a job teaching mathematics at Connecticut College. In 1944 she worked at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. When Richard returned from the Navy in 1945 they moved to Michigan, where they both taught at the University of Michigan. They moved again in 1946 to New Jersey where Schafer taught at Douglass College for two years. In 1948 they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she taught at Swarthmore College; and in 1951, at Drexel Institute of Technology. Alice and Richard adopted their two sons during this time; John in 1948, and Richard in 1951. The family moved back to Connecticut in 1953, where Alice taught part-time at the University of Connecticut, and again at Connecticut College from 1954 to 1962. In 1962 Alice joined the faculty at Wellesley College. She chaired the mathematics department from 1963 to 1968; and received tenure in 1965.

Known for her efforts to encourage girls and women to learn mathematics, Alice Schafer was part of the women's caucus at a joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America that formed the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) in January 1971. Mary W. Gray was elected as the first president; Schafer served as president from 1973 to 1975. At first, AWM operated like a grassroots movement, holding small meetings all over the country. Official bi-annual meetings were held in conjunction with the joint meetings of the American Mathematical Society, and the Mathematical Association of America. AWM encouraged mathematical organizations to consider both female and male mathematicians for candidates for offices and membership on committees, to invite more women to give talks, to organize sections on special topics such as "Women Mathematicians in Business, Industry, and Government'' at their meetings, and to increase the number of women editors on mathematical journals. For more information, see the Association for Women in Mathematics web site,

In 1980 Schafer was named Helen Day Gould Professor of Mathematics at Wellesley College. She retired as mathematics professor that same year (she was 65), but stayed at Wellesley as chair of the Affirmative Action Program for two years. In 1982 she began teaching at Simmons College and was involved with the Radcliffe College Seminars. Schafer was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1985, and the Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize was established in her honor by the Association for Women in Mathematics in 1989. The prize was established in recognition of her service to the Association for Women in Mathematics, and her dedication to encouraging young women to study and enter careers in the mathematical sciences. Alice and Richard moved to Arlington, Virginia, when Richard retired from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988, and Alice taught at Marymount University from 1988 to 1996.

Schafer traveled six times to the People's Republic of China, bringing her love of mathematics, and the conviction that women could excel in the field. In 1980 she and Richard went with a private tour group. In 1987, 1989, and 1990 she traveled with the United Nations People to People Citizen Ambassador Program leading groups of undergraduate mathematics educators (1987) and a women in mathematics delegation (1989-1990). She led the United States/China Joint Conference on Education Delegation of Women Mathematicians to China in 1992, and the United States/China Joint Conference on Women in Science Delegation to Beijing, China in 1995. The women in science delegation met with representatives of the All-China Women's Federation, and the Chinese Women's Association of Science and Technology (CWAST) to examine the social status of women and their roles in society and the workplace. Alice retired for the last time in 1996. In 1998 she was awarded the Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Ha Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics by the Mathematics Association of America. That same year, Alice and Richard moved to Lexington, Massachusetts. Alice died on September 27, 2009, at the age of 94.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1944-2010, n.d. (#1.1-1.18, PD.1)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1962-2012 (#1.19-4.18, 8.9, PD.2-PD.4)
  3. Series III. Association for Women in Mathematics, 1980-2005 (#4.19-8.8)
  4. Series IV. Oversized and memorabilia, 1987-1996, n.d. (#FD.1, F+D.1, OD.1, Mem.1)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2008-M46, 2010-M151, 2012-M162

The papers of Alice Turner Schafer were given to the Schlesinger Library by Richard Schafer in 2008 and 2010 and Erica Dakin Voolich in 2012.


Donors: Richard Schafer

Accession number: 2008-M46

Processed by: Cat Lea Holbrook

The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library Books and Printed Materials Division:

  1. "Kovalevskaia Fund Newsletter," 1986-1997

The following items have been removed from the collection and transferred to the Schlesinger Library Women's Newsletter and Periodical Collection ( Pr- 4):

  1. "Forum '95, the Independent Daily of the NGO Forum of Women"
  2. "Women and Mathematics Education Newsletter," 1994

Processing Information

Processed: July 2011

By: Cat Lea Holbrook, with assistance from Camille Torres.

Updated June 2013

By: Cat Lea Holbrook

Schafer, Alice Turner, 1915-2009. Papers of Alice Turner Schafer, 1944-2012 (inclusive), 1980-1997 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Steiner Book and Manuscript Fund and the Zetlin Sisters Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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