I Made A Mistake In One of Those Math Department Posts

It was this post, about Hubert Bray ’18, the first man to get a doctorate at Rice. This mistake led me down quite an interesting path. Even as I wrote it I was bothered in the back of my mind by the fact that his dissertation didn’t have his advisor listed on the front page. When I wrote it I just assumed that it had to be Griffith Evans, who produced a lot of Ph.D.s, but still bothered a week later I gave in and ran it down. That’s how I discovered my mistake. Bray’s advisor turns out to be a gentleman named Francis D. Murnaghan, who was recruited by Dr. Lovett after receiving his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. He stayed only a couple of years, returning to Hopkins where he spent the rest of his long career. I know very little about him. His only mention in the Thresher is a notice of his arrival in the fall of 1916. There are few photographs of faculty in the early Campaniles and his picture is not among them.

What I do have, though, is a short memoir written by Bray (that handwriting!) about Griffith Evans and the beginnings of Rice’s math department which mentions Murnaghan. Read to the end and you’ll be rewarded with some comedy about collegiate athletics:

I also discovered that the Woodson does indeed  have a photo of him, but in a place I didn’t expect. Here is the cast of a play performed in 1918 by Rice faculty (and spouses?), a comedy called Green Stockings. I believe that’s Mr. Murnaghan standing fourth from  the right:

I can’t stop myself from pointing out James Chillman, who taught fine arts in the architecture department, kneeling at left and John Clark Tidden kneeling at the right. Besides Murnaghan in the back are Physics professor Claude Heaps and biologist Herman Muller.

Bonus: Part of what makes me smile about the commentary about athletics in Bray’s little piece about Evans is that Bray himself was a huge supporter of Rice athletics, serving for decades on the Committee on Outdoor Sports.

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7 Responses to I Made A Mistake In One of Those Math Department Posts

  1. Melissa Crowfoot Keane, Jones ‘72 says:

    Wow! Dr. Chillman in 1918; that photo really tickled me. We were in the last class he taught at Rice (1971-72), his architectural survey course focusing on “Key Monuments.” Decades later, I remembered that class (and his slides and his voice) when I visited Chartres Cathedral. Thank you, Dr. Chillman.

  2. Bob Toone, WRC ‘67 says:

    I had Dr. Bray for Math 100 my Freshman year, 1966. He was a wonderful gentlemen.

    • Mike Schwartz says:

      I was in Dr. Bray’s (“honors”?) Math class (Math 210? or something like that?) … for one semester. After that, imho it is well that I returned to a “regular” math class for the rest of my sophomore year … since — (in my opinion, … *now*) — that is where I belonged.
      My freshman year, they said — (after I took some test) — that I could sign up for some other (“honors”?) Math class (“Math 220”? perhaps?) but … I also did not belong in that class. Fortunately I realized that it was not for me, and …that dawned on me so QUICKLY that there was still time for me to return my book to the bookstore, and get my money back. I got a copy of the textbook (“Calculus” by Spivak) for Math 100, and … (IMHO), that — (“Math 100”) — is where I belonged for freshman year.

  3. rusk49 says:

    I agree. Starting in 1949 I was in Dr. Bray’s math classes my freshman, sophomore. and junior years. He was the best teacher I ever had.

  4. Lisa Geda says:

    We have a collection of portraits of old math faculty including Dr. Bray. Would you be interested in them or know who would be in the library. You can contact me in the Math department

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