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Neumann, Hanna (1914–1971)

by Kenneth F. Fowler

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Hanna Neumann, 1964

Hanna Neumann, 1964

Australian National University

Hanna Neumann (1914-1971), mathematician, was born on 12 February 1914 at Lankwitz, Berlin, and registered as Johanna, youngest of three children of Hermann Konrad von Caemmerer (d.1914), historian, and his wife Katharina Elisabeth, née Jordan. Educated at the Auguste-Viktoria-Schule and the University of Berlin, Hanna completed the Staatsexamen in 1936, with distinctions in mathematics and physics. She had intended to study for a doctorate, but, because of her opposition to Nazism, was advised to move elsewhere. In 1937 she became a research student in pure mathematics at the University of Göttingen.

Next year Miss von Caemmerer joined her fiancé Bernhard Hermann Neumann in Britain. A Jewish refugee from Germany, he had taken a lectureship in mathematics at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, Cardiff. They were married on 22 December 1938 at the local register office and were to have five children. Hanna enrolled at the University of Oxford (D.Phil., 1944) and completed a thesis on the theory of groups; the university later awarded her a D.Sc. (1955) for her publications. Naturalized as a British subject in 1946, she began her teaching career that year at the University College of Hull (University of Hull from 1954). She was appointed to a lectureship at the Manchester College of Science and Technology in 1958, and was soon promoted senior lecturer. She and her husband spent their study leave at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, in 1961-62.

Leaving England in August 1963, Hanna took up a professorial fellowship in the Institute of Advanced Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, where Bernhard had set up the department of mathematics in the Research School of Physical Sciences. On 1 April 1964 Hanna was appointed to the chair of pure mathematics in the university's School of General Studies. In 1965 she helped to organize a successful international conference on group theory, held at the A.N.U. She was president (1967-68) of the Canberra Mathematical Association and a fellow (1969) of the Australian Academy of Science. In 1969-70 she and Bernhard spent their sabbaticals in England, Europe, North America and India.

Hanna was a born teacher. She made abstract ideas accessible through concrete examples and showed that mathematics could be applied to many human endeavours. Within months of becoming a professor, she gave a series of courses to secondary schoolteachers and participated in discussions on new syllabuses for senior students. In 1966 she was elected a foundation vice-president of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers. Convinced that mathematical education in Australia was 'lagging behind the rest of the world to a frightening extent', she worked hard to rectify the problem and was made a fellow (1970) of the Australian College of Education. She served as dean of students at the A.N.U. in 1968-69.

Hanna Neumann's research centred largely on group theory, in particular on problems related to free products with amalgamations, embeddings, and varieties of groups. She was invited to lecture at colloquia and universities throughout the world. Her monograph, Varieties of Groups (Berlin, 1967), was translated into Russian and is still in print. Most of her thirty-four articles were published in international journals, nine jointly written with her husband, and two with him and their son Peter. D. S. Meek and R. G. Stanton edited the six-volume Selected Works of B. H. and Hanna Neumann (Winnipeg, Canada, 1988).

Hanna Neumann found joy and beauty in the study of mathematics. A humble woman, peace-loving, warm, enthusiastic, inspiring and energetic, she had a flair for languages. Her hobbies were cycling, botany and photography. She frequently invited staff and students to coffee-evenings in her Forrest home. By carefully organizing the time she gave to work and recreation, she managed to remain closely involved with her children, four of whom became mathematicians. She held no formal religious beliefs. While on a lecture tour of Canadian universities, she died of a cerebral aneurysm on 14 November 1971 in Ottawa and was cremated; her husband, three sons and two daughters survived her. A building at the A.N.U. was named (1973) after her.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Mathematics Teacher, vol 29, no 1, 1973, p 1
  • Australian Mathematical Society Journal, vol 17, part 1, 1974, p 1.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kenneth F. Fowler, 'Neumann, Hanna (1914–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 February 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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