It might seem improbable but the first man to receive a Rice doctorate appears in the very same 1926 photograph as the first woman to earn one. Hubert Bray ’18 is right over Miss Hickey’s shoulder towards our left:
It’s not as unlikely as it seems, though, as Edgar Odell Lovett, a mathematician himself, had gathered an unusually strong group to staff that department. (More about this later.)
Bray, an Englishman, was finishing a masters degree at Harvard in 1916 when he was visited by Lovett, who sought to recruit him as a teaching fellow and doctoral student. (I sometimes stop in wonder at what a salesman EOL must have been.) He came, of course, and did his degree with Griffith Evans (who stands over Miss Hickey’s other shoulder in the photo). His dissertation is here if you’re into that sort of thing.
Aside from his scholarly work Bray soon became fully engaged in the life of the university. He married a Rice student, Gertrude Boxley ’21, and stayed on the faculty, becoming head of the department in 1935. He remained in this position until he retired at the age of 70 in 1959, but continued to teach as a Trustee Distinguished Professor until 1970. He died in Houston in 1978.
During the Institute’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in 1962 the Thresher ran a series of articles about the longest serving faculty members still on campus. The piece about Bray is exceptionally interesting for the light it shone on the early development of the school:
Bonus: The Brays at one of the big Cohen House New Year’s Eve bashes, 1967.
Warning: I’ve now become interested in how many blog posts I can generate from that 1926 Math Department picture. Three to four more, is my best guess, without stretching too much. Hold on to your hats.