Scope and Content
Title: George and Alexandra Forsythe Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1936-1979
Collection number: Stanford University Archives SC 098
Forsythe, George, 1917-1972
Forsythe, Alexandra I.
40 linear ft.
Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights
reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To
obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the
Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections
and University Archives.
Gift of Mrs. Sandra Forsythe, 1972, and Dianne and Warren Forsythe, 1979.
[Identification of item], George and Alexandra Forsythe Papers, SC 098,
Stanford University Archives, Stanford, Calif.
Memorial Resolution: George Elmer Forsythe 1917-1972
George E. Forsythe, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Computer Science, died on April 9, 1972, at the age of 55.
He founded the Stanford Computer Science Department, one of the first such departments in the nation, on January 1, 1965.
His wise counsel, friendly encouragement and inspiring leadership will be sorely missed by his colleagues and his many friends
in and outside the department.
George was born on January 8, 1917, in State College, Pennsylvania, and moved as a small boy with his family to Ann Arbor,
Michigan. His undergraduate work was at Swarthmore College, where he majored in Mathematics. His experience there had a strong
influence on his life. His graduate study was in Mathematics at Brown University where he received his M.S. in 1938 and his
Ph.D. in 1941. He then came to Stanford but his first year here was interrupted by service in the Air Force, in which he became
a meteorologist. His interest in his fellow students and in education manifested itself very early and he became co-author
of an outstanding book on meteorology. Following his service in the Air Force his interest in numerical mathematics and computation
developed rapidly. He spent a year at Boeing where he introduced what may have been the first use of automatic computing in
that company. He spent several years in the Institute for Numerical Analysis of the National Bureau of Standards, a special
section located on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the Institute because he wanted to watch
the development of the Standards Western Automatic Computer (SWAC), one of the first of the digital computers. He had many
interesting tales to tell of these early days of computing.
Stanford acquired its first computer in 1953, and research and instruction in numerical mathematics and computation began
to develop. Soon after this the Mathematics Department began to search for new leadership in this field, and George Forsythe
was the unanimous choice of the faculty. It was in 1957 that he returned to Stanford, joining once again the Mathematics Department,
this time as Professor. He quickly saw the need for more emphasis on numerical mathematics and computing and was a strong
advocate of more involvement in these areas. He was an inspiring and persuasive leader, with an unrivalled sense of timing.
He saw the Computer Revolution developing and the need for more study, research, and teaching in the computer area. He conceived
it as related to but still different from the traditional emphasis in mathematics; thus, he became convinced of the need for
adding scholars well-versed in this area to the faculty. Under his leadership, the Computer Science Division of the Mathematics
Department was formed in 1961, and he began the slow process of gathering an outstanding group of colleagues.
The culmination of this effort was the founding of the Computer Science Department on January 1, 1965, by which time he had
succeeded in attracting a nucleus of leading computer scientists. Under his dynamic leadership and foresight the
department developed into one of the outstanding Computer Science Departments in the nation. George was very skillful in bringing
together many diverse points of view. He captured the loyalty of his colleagues. He was a master at resolving differences
between people with different views. Of all his professional activities, building and leading the department was closest to
his heart. He did, however, contribute his leadership to Stanford in other but related tasks. He served as Director of the
Stanford Computation Center from 1961 to 1965. He played a major role insuring effective interaction between the University
and the distinguished computer experts from education, government, and industry on the Computer Science Advisory Committee.
During his last two years he was chairman of the Presidential Committee on Computation Facilities and the leading voice in
urging that greater attention be given to effective use of computers at Stanford.
George had a nationwide influence on Computer Science education. The emergence of a discipline of Computer Science is due
to his efforts more than to those of any other single person. As editor of the Algorithms Department of the Communications
of the Association for Computing Machinery, a prominent journal, he made important contributions to the quality of technical
computer science publications. He served a term as President of the Association for Computing Machinery from 1964 to 1966.
His influence on computer education and other activities in the computer area continued long after his term of office was
In his research, lectures, and publications, he tried to serve as the mediator between the theoretical mathematician, the
application-minded engineer and the numerical analyst who had to cooperate with both and had to utilize their knowledge and
experience in order to help them in solving their problems. He was the author of two books in this vein:
Finite-Difference Methods for Partial Differential Equations (with Wolfgang Wasow), John Wiley, New York, 1960, and
Computer Solution of Linear Algebraic Systems (with Cleve B. Moler), Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1967. Both of these books have been translated into Russian and Japanese
and the latter one also into German. His judgments on the practical possibilities and potentials of theoretical procedures
in mathematics were highly appreciated by his colleagues in pure mathematics and his criticism was always stimulating and
George was always most concerned with students' welfare, making all of his vast library of books and reprints freely available
to them as well as to his colleagues. In any discussion with his colleagues he was a strong advocate of what he felt would
most benefit the students. Their progress and development were his constant concern. Perhaps the most visible and enduring
evidence of his influence on other people is to be seen in the significant contributions that have been made and are being
made by the students whose research he guided. He was never too busy to see and encourage them, and he chose their problems
wisely. He instilled in them a fine feeling for the techniques of research so that most of them have continued to work in
important areas. The influence of his students on the direction of research in numerical analysis and on the development of
computer science has been remarkable.
He enjoyed an active life, continuing to play tennis until only a few weeks before his death. He was also a jogger and a hiker.
He loved the out-of-doors. He and his wife, Sandra, were married on the same day that he received his Ph.D. She shared his
interest in computation and shared with him early experiences in using SWAC. While George was developing Computer Science
education at the college
level, Sandra was also actively pioneering this area at the high school level and continues to pursue this activity. Together
they enjoyed travelling in many countries and hiking in the High Sierras. In addition to his wife, George is survived by his
son Warren (Tuck), who is a graduate student of botany at the University of Montana, and by his daughter, Diana, a graduate
student of anthropology at Cornell.
John G. Herriot, Chairman
Gene H. Golub
Donald E. Knuth
William F. Miller
Menahem M. Schiffer
Scope and Content
The papers of George and Alexandra Forsythe include professional correspondence, notes for lectures and
publications, committee records and publications, materials
relating to the Forsythes' writings in the field of computer
science, and materials relating to Alexandra Forsythe's interest in
secondary school instruction of computer science.
COMMON ABBREVIATIONS USED IN THIS COLLECTION
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of University Professors
Association for Computing Machinery
Advance Research Projects Agency
Computer Science (Forsythe's)
137 is class number (Forsythe's)
Computer Science Department (Forsythe's)
Committee on Computer Science in Electrical Engineering
Committee on Support of Research in Mathematical Sciences
Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics
Fall Joint Computer Conference
Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
International Federation for Information Processing
Numerical Analysis (Forsythe's)
National Academy of Sciences
National Bureau of Standards
National Defense Education Act
National Science Foundation
Ordinary Differential Equations (Forsythe's)
Office of Naval Research
Partial Differential Equations (Forsythe's)
Special Interest Committee on Computer Science Education
Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Special Interest Group on Numerical Mathematics
Stanford Linear Accellerator Center
School Mathematics Study Group
Subcommittee On Partial Differential Equations
Stanford Physics Information Retrieval System
NBS Western Automatic Computer
PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES MENTIONED