About Sophia McDonald
Sophia Levy McDonald, Mathematics: Berkeley
1888-1963 Professor Emeritus Sophia Levy McDonald was born on December 12, 1888, in Alameda, California, the daughter of Alexander Jay Levy and Sarah Horabin Levy. Her parents were also native Californians, having been born in Coloma, in 1855, and in Shirt-tail Canyon, in 1861, respectively. Sophia Levy attended the University of California, became interested in astronomy, and graduated in 1910 with the degree of B.S., major in astronomy. She was Watson Assistant in Astronomy from 1910 to 1914, and also University Fellow in Astronomy from 1912 to 1914. From 1914 to 1918 she served as Assistant to the Dean of the Graduate Division, and from March 1918 to February 1920 she was Secretary, Commission of Credentials, California State Board of Education. In 1920 she received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in astronomy from the University of California. For several months during that year she was Office Manager of the University of California Press, and in October she again became Assistant to the Dean of the Graduate Division and Research Assistant in Theoretical Astronomy.
To the field of theoretical astronomy she contributed many papers dealing with the motions of comets and minor planets. This work began while she was Watson Assistant and was aided by an award from the Watson Trustees of the National Academy of Sciences. She was an excellent computer and performed extensive computations. Candidates for higher degrees in astronomy also performed computations under her direction with the aid of subsequent Watson grants. This work
― 51 ― included the development of perturbations, mean elements and representations of observations, both before and after correction. Some of these results led to a redetermination of the mass of the planet Jupiter. Many of her publications, in joint authorship especially with Professor A. O. Leuschner, but also with Professors Meyer, Crawford and Shane, appeared as Lick Observatory bulletins. An early work with Professor Leuschner and Anna Estelle Glancy, Part II of ““Tables of Minor Planets Discovered by James C. Watson,”” appeared in the Memoris of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 14, No. 3, 158 pages, 1920. In 1952 there appeared, with Leuschner, the extensive work, ““Tables of General Perturbations for a Group of Minor Planets Which Includes the Group One-half with Applications to Thirty-four Cases,”” Volume XX, pp. 1-210, Publications of the Lick Observatory. Sophia Levy's competence in mathematics was recognized by her appointment as Instructor in Mathematics in 1923, Assistant Professor in 1925, Associate Professor in 1940, and Professor of Mathematics in 1949. Since her work in astronomy required the handling of extensive numerical data, she quite naturally directed herself to the field of numerical analysis, including such subjects as interpolation methods, mechanical quadratures, the numerical solution of algebraic and transcendental equations, Fourier analysis and periodogram analysis. As a member of the Mathematics Department she contributed to the mathematical training of several hundred engineering students every year. During World War II, she was Director of Mathematics Instruction for the Army Specialized Training Program at Berkeley. She also taught many courses in antiaircraft gunnery for men stationed at defense positions. This work resulted in the publication of a text, Introductory Artillery Mathematics and Antiaircraft Mathematics, University of California Press, 1943.
Professor McDonald contributed notably to the teaching of mathematics in the secondary schools. For more than thirty
― 52 ― years she advised prospective mathematics teachers and planned programs to meet their needs and to satisfy University and state requirements. She was a frequent speaker before teachers' institute groups. She served as a member of the Sub-committee on Mathematics of the California Committee for the Study of Education and also as a member of the Committee on the Preparation of Secondary School Mathematics Teachers, a committee sponsored by the University of California and the San Francisco School District. Professor McDonald was active in providing “enhancement materials” for teachers of mathematics in the secondary field. This work eventually led to the establishment of an extensive summer session program which she taught. Students in the class were assigned projects to find and develop enhancement materials. Each year, the most appropriate and helpful materials were selected by a committee chosen by the class and were issued in mimeographed form as books that were distributed widely to teachers. In 1939, Professor McDonald, and Mr. A. L. McCarty of the San Francisco City College, organized the Northern California Section of the Mathematical Association of America. Mr. McCarty served as first chairman, and Professor McDonald as secretary during the formation of the section and as first vice-chairman. In 1940, she was elected chairman, and from 1945 to 1947 she served as sectional governor of the association. In 1941, the Northern California and Southern California Sections established a Joint Committee on Mathematical Education, under her chairmanship “to study means of strengthening the program of mathematics in schools and colleges.” Her bibliography includes three publications in The Mathematics Teacher on the teaching of mathematics in the schools.
Professor McDonald was a member of Mu Theta Epsilon, Pi Mu Epsilon, Sigma Xi, American Mathematical Society, Mathematical Association of America, American Association
― 53 ― for the Advancement of Science, and American Astronomical Society. For several years she advised the local chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, the National Mathematics Honor Society, and from 1951 to 1957 she served as a councilor general of that organization. As an extracurricular activity, she collected dolls of all types from all over the world and frequently exhibited them to the delight of viewers. Sophia Levy married Professor John Hector McDonald upon his retirement in 1944 from the Mathematics Department. His friends are grateful to her for the care and affection she gave him until his death in 1953.
Professor Sophia Levy McDonald retired as Professor Emeritus in 1954 and died in Oakland, California, on December 6, 1963. She is survived by a sister, Mrs. Alexander Caig of White Sands, La Jolla.
The daughter of pioneer parents in California, Sophia Levy McDonald viewed herself as somewhat of a pioneer for women in the field of study and research in the exact sciences. She contributed to the fame which the Astronomy Department enjoyed under the leadership of the late Professor Leuschner in the field of celestial mechanics, and she contributed significantly to the teaching of mathematics in the schools and colleges in California.
V. F. Lenzen S. Einarsson G. C. Evans