Math: the subject that keeps me from getting a degree in meteorology and has been known to bring tears to my eyes. Whatever you call it, it is not something I am particularly good at. Though I do have fondness for algebra and trigonometry, on the whole, math and I are not friends. Don’t even talk to me about calculus; I just can’t understand why they invented a subject that relies on imaginary numbers to solve equations.
What does math have to do with history? In the case of William Marshall Bullitt, there is a correlation between the two. Mr. Bullitt, of the Oxmoor Bullitts, was a man who led quite the interesting life. He was named Solicitor General under the Taft Administration, which gave him the right to argue all of the federal government’s cases before the Supreme Court. His success during his term enabled him to become one of America’s most noted lawyers. Apart from that, his interest and talent in mathematics drew large insurance companies to his client list, for which he explained complex tax and accounting issues to the courts.
His passion for math and a bet with a friend drove him to collect one of the world’s most valuable collections of math, physics, and astronomy books, many of which are first editions. He corresponded with Albert Einstein and was friends with many physicists. He was active in the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America. That’s a lot of math talk.
His love of math aside (which still confuses me; how can someone love math?), William Marshall Bullitt was an interesting character. Perhaps his love of a subject that befuddles me makes him even more interesting. If you would like to find out more about his life and the fabulous people he knew, The Filson has the right event for you. Mark Davis has researched Mr. Bullitt’s life using the Bullitt Family collection in our archives and will be launching his book Solicitor General Bullitt: The Life of William Marshall Bullitt on October 25.