1932 Sigma Mu members outside the old Huntington High School.

Tracing the Origins of Huntington’s Math Honor Society

1932 Sigma Mu members outside the old Huntington High School.

January 4, 2018

Huntington High School’s Nathan Hale chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, the National Math Honor Society will induct 41 new members during a ceremony next Monday night. The scholarly organization’s historical roots run deep, stretching back more than 90 years.

A Huntington High School math club known as Sigma Mu was formed in 1926 “by a group of students who desired to advance farther into mathematics than what the school offers,” according to the 1931 yearbook.

Like dozens of other clubs, Sigma Mu prospered for decades before eventually disappearing from the scene. In 1931, it featured an active membership of about 20 teenagers, including many of the school’s most prominent members.

Eligibility was restricted to students who had passed Geometry B and were accepted by the club. The faculty advisor during those early years was Barnard College graduate Edna Van Wart. In 1932, membership grew by nearly 50 percent. The club typically met every two week “to discuss mathematical freaks and peculiarities.”

Sigma Mu prospered under the steady leadership of Miss Van Wart, who enjoyed music in her free time. During the 1937-38 school year, regular meetings consisted of working on math problems and puzzles and “current mathematical happenings.” The main events of the year were the Christmas party and the club’s June picnic.

Miss Van Wart graduated from Barnard College in 1919. She taught for three years prior to coming to Huntington and beginning her teaching career here in 1922. She was on the faculty for the next four decades before retiring in June 1962.

In 1955, Miss Van Wart became the high school’s first chair of the mathematics department. She also served as senior class advisor for 14 years. Huntington High School’s 1946 and 1962 yearbooks are dedicated to the longtime district teacher.

“We regret her retirement,” said Principal Robert A. Cushman in remarks republished on page 121 of the 1962 edition of the Huntingtonian. “Over the span of forty years, Miss Van Wart has taught skillfully and well thousands of Huntington students. Her warm friendliness, loyal devotion and superior work have inspired and helped generations of students and faculty. We give her our best wishes with the full appreciation in our hearts of the privilege of having known and worked with her. We honor a great teacher.” She passed away in November 1980.

The 1957 edition of The Huntingtonian doesn’t include any mention of Sigma Mu, instead referring to the group simply as the Math Club. Its members were termed “the wizards in our midst” and meetings focused on such topics as determinants, symbolic logic and calculus. Members competed in the Pi Mu Epsilon contest.

At some point, a junior Math Club was formed. Students in that club studied the history of math and other aspects of the discipline, eventually graduating to the senior club. They also learned math shortcuts and prepared for future math contests.

By the 1960-61 school year, Sigma Mu and the Math Club disappeared into Huntington High School’s history. Today it is largely forgotten.

Huntington’s Nathan Hale chapter of Mu Alpha Theta was formed during the 1996/97 school year. It’s the worthy predecessor of Sigma Mu. The organization’s membership standards require students to be enrolled in a math class higher than Algebra 2 Trigonometry, have a minimum un-weighted average of 90 in previous math courses and have at least an 85 average in the first quarter of their pre-calculus (or higher) math class.

Teacher Monica Racz, who now serves as the faculty advisor for Huntington’s Mu Alpha Theta chapter never had an opportunity to meet Miss Van Wart, who passed away decades ago. But if the two were able to sit down and chat today, one gets the impression the duo would have plenty to discuss.

Huntington High School Math Honor Society faculty advisor Monica Racz.
Huntington High School Math Honor Society faculty advisor Monica Racz.
Sigma Mu members pose for a photo in 1937.
Sigma Mu members pose for a photo in 1937.
Math teacher Edna Van Wart in 1946.
Math teacher Edna Van Wart in 1946.
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