Robert Lee Moore

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Robert Lee Moore
Robert Lee Moore.jpg
R. L. Moore (1882–1974)
Born (1882-11-14)November 14, 1882
Dallas, Texas
Died October 4, 1974(1974-10-04) (aged 91)
Austin, Texas
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Chicago (Ph.D., 1905)
Scientific career
Fields Mathematics
Institutions University of Texas at Austin
Thesis Sets of Metrical Hypotheses for Geometry (1905)
Doctoral advisor Oswald Veblen
E. H. Moore
Doctoral students Richard Anderson
R. H. Bing
Sherman Dyer
F. Burton Jones
John Kline
Edwin E Moise
Anna Mullikin
Mary Ellen Rudin
Gordon Whyburn
Raymond Wilder

Robert Lee Moore (November 14, 1882 – October 4, 1974) was an American mathematician who taught for many years at the University of Texas. He is known for his work in general topology, for the Moore method of teaching university mathematics, and for his poor treatment of African-American mathematics students.


Although Moore's father was reared in New England and was of New England ancestry, he fought in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. After the war, he ran a hardware store in Dallas, then little more than a railway stop, and raised six children, of whom Robert, named after the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, was the fifth.

Moore entered the University of Texas at the unusually youthful age of 15, in 1898, already knowing calculus thanks to self-study. He completed the B.Sc. in three years instead of the usual four; his teachers included G. B. Halsted and L. E. Dickson. After a year as a teaching fellow at Texas, he taught high school for a year in Marshall, Texas.

An assignment of Halsted's led Moore to prove that one of Hilbert's axioms for geometry was redundant. When E. H. Moore (no relation), who headed the Department of Mathematics at the University of Chicago, and whose research interests were on the foundations of geometry, heard of Robert's feat, he arranged for a scholarship that would allow Robert to study for a doctorate at Chicago. Oswald Veblen supervised Moore's 1905 thesis, titled Sets of Metrical Hypotheses for Geometry.

Moore then taught one year at the University of Tennessee, two years at Princeton University, and three years at Northwestern University. In 1910, he married Margaret MacLelland Key of Brenham, Texas; they had no children. In 1911, he took up a position at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1920, Moore happily returned to the University of Texas at Austin as an associate professor, and was promoted to full professor three years later. In 1951, he went on half pay, but continued to teach his habitual five classes a year, including a section of freshman calculus, until the University authorities forced his definitive retirement in 1969, his 87th year. In 1973, the University of Texas honored him by giving the name Moore Hall to a new building housing the physics, mathematics, and astronomy departments.

A strong supporter of the American Mathematical Society, he presided over it, 1936–38. He edited its Colloquium Publications, 1929–33, and was the editor-in-chief, 1930–33. In 1931, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.


According to the bibliography in Wilder (1976), Moore published 67 papers and one monograph, his 1932 Foundations of Point Set Theory. He is primarily remembered for his work on the foundations of topology, a topic he first touched on in his PhD thesis. By the time Moore returned to the University of Texas, he had published 17 papers on point-set topology—a term he coined—including his 1915 paper "On a set of postulates which suffice to define a number-plane," giving an axiom system for plane topology. The Moore plane, Moore's road space, Moore space, Moore's quotient theorem (ru) and the Moore space conjecture are named in his honor.

Unusual teacher[edit]

Robert Lee Moore is known to have supervised 50 doctoral dissertations, almost all at Texas, including those of R. H. Bing, F. Burton Jones, John R. Kline, Mary Ellen Rudin, Gordon Whyburn, Richard Davis Anderson, and Raymond Louis Wilder. This attests to Moore's having been one of the most charismatic and inspiring university teachers of mathematics ever active in the United States. Moore had a breathtaking ability to teach students who had never previously distinguished themselves in mathematics how to do proofs. He went out of his way to teach elementary and service courses every year, and actually forbade his students from consulting the mathematical literature.

It was while attending lectures at the University of Chicago that Moore first hit on his original teaching methods. Finding these lectures rather boring, even mind dulling, he would liven up a lecture by running a race in his mind with the lecturer, by trying to discover the proof of an announced theorem before the lecturer had finished his presentation. Moore often won this silent race, and when he did not, he felt that he was better off from having made the attempt. It was at the University of Pennsylvania, while teaching a course on the foundations of geometry, that Moore first tried out the teaching methods that came to be known as the Moore method. The success of this method led others to adopt it and similar methods.


Moore's record as a teacher of mathematics has been tarnished by his attitude towards black students. Most of his career was spent in a racially segregated part of the United States, and Moore himself was strongly in favor of segregation.[1][2][3] He denied African-American student Vivienne Malone-Mayes any place in his classes,[3] told another African-American student that if he enrolled, his maximum possible grade would be a C,[4] and on one occasion walked out of a talk by a student, his academic grandchild, after discovering that the speaker was African-American.[3][4]


  • "That student is taught the best who is told the least." Moore, quote in Parker (2005: vii).
  • "I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand." (Chinese proverb that was a favorite of Moore's. Quoted in Halmos, P.R. (1985) I want to be a mathematician: an automathography. Springer-Verlag: 258)


  1. ^ Lewis, Albert C. (2004). "The beginnings of the R. L. Moore school of topology" (PDF). Historia Mathematica. 31: 279–295. doi:10.1016/s0315-0860(03)00050-8. Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  2. ^ McCann, Mac (May 29, 2015). "Written in Stone: History of racism lives on in UT monuments". The Austin Chronicle. 
  3. ^ a b c Hersh, Reuben; John-Steiner, Vera (2010). Loving and Hating Mathematics: Challenging the Myths of Mathematical Life. Princeton University Press. p. 405. ISBN 9781400836116. .
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Raymond L. "You can get there even from Alice, Texas(if you're lucky and you know where there is)". Rice University. Retrieved 2017-04-06. 


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