In 1894, Ohio mathematician Benjamin Franklin Finkel founded The American Mathematical Monthly to engage a broader audience of mathematicians than were involved with the newly formed American Mathematical Society. Along with mathematical puzzles, articles, and discussions, the first ten volumes of the Monthly included biographies of American mathematicians who worked as teachers, writers, and broadly skilled practitioners. Although the details about each mathematician were different, their biographies often followed a similar narrative template to contemporary depictions of the self-made man. This article argues that the story of the self-made mathematician, as presented in early issues of the Monthly, helped ground mathematics in day-to-day American life while asserting ties to different forms of masculinity. Such assertions were particularly significant in the late nineteenth century when a professional mathematics community was taking shape in the United States, and its leaders were becoming increasingly focused on “modern,” abstract forms of research. By marshalling a variety of cultural tropes tied to self-making, physical labor, rural identity, and manhood, biographies in the Monthly offered a particular image of American mathematics at a time when the boundaries of the category “mathematician” were shifting, and what it meant to be an American mathematician had yet to be defined.

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