History of the Department
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS AND COMPUTER SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE SOUTH
By W.M. Priestley May, 2008
The early teaching of mathematics at the University of the South is associated most strongly with the names of Edmund Kirby-Smith and James Postell Jervey, both of whom were educated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and taught at the University for nearly twenty years following their military careers. Kirby-Smith, one of the handful of full generals in the Confederate army, came to Sewanee in 1875 to teach mathematics, a subject he had taught at West Point for a couple of years around 1850. He was also asked to teach botany, and his herbarium collection, donated to the University of Florida around the time of his death in Sewanee in 1893, contained several thousand specimens. The Kirby-Smith Memorial stands on University Avenue in his memory.
General Jervey taught mathematics at Sewanee from 1926 until 1945, following his career in the military. One supposes that the mathematics such men taught during these early days must have had a strong applied flavor with perhaps a bent toward engineering applications learned at West Point. A slightly different emphasis must have come, however, with the arrival, also around 1926, of Gaston S. Bruton, who may have been the first Sewanee professor to hold a Ph.D. degree in mathematics (University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1932).
Bruton was a strong presence on the Sewanee faculty for forty years, helping to found a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa early on, chairing the Mathematics Department, coaching the tennis team, and later keeping a firm hand upon the finances of the University as Dean of Administration during Edward McCrady's tenure as Vice-Chancellor. Upon the re-naming of his office, Bruton became the University's first Provost. He died in 1968 after suffering bravely and stoically from cancer.
At the Bruton-Guerry Tennis Courts a plaque describes Bruton as "Professor, Provost and, for 36 years, Tennis Coach."
Highlights of the Department Over the Years