University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Katharine E. O’Brien papers, 1905-1986

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

This collection documents O’Brien’s creative work as well as her high school teaching career. Among the creative works are poetry notes and drafts, published verse, musical scores, and literary correspondence. The collection includes O’Brien’s Deering High School files from 1940-1971. These files are made up of class schedules, correspondence, programs from events, annual reports of the math department, and clippings about students and the school (especially regarding honors won by her students.) Other professional correspondence is also included, as well as biographical information and material pertaining to O’Brien’s honorary degrees.

Biographical/Historical Note

Born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1901, Katharine O’Brien moved to Maine with her family at the age of three and graduated as valedictorian of her 1918 Deering High School class. O’Brien studied English and math at Bates College and then earned a master’s degree in mathematics from Cornell. She began her teaching career at New Rochelle College in the English department, and then taught math for the remainder of her career.

While teaching at the college level, she wrote a great number of poems, many of which appeared local and national publications. In 1937 O’Brien went on to earn her doctorate in mathematics from Brown University, and in 1940 she joined the mathematics department of Deering High School, being appointed head of the department in 1945. O’Brien earned great respect and affection from her colleagues and students, and in 1964, the students established the Katharine E. O’Brien Mathematics Award, given annually to an outstanding student. O’Brien was also a talented pianist, directed the Girls’ Glee Club for several years, and composed scores for them to perform.

In addition to teaching at Deering, O’Brien lectured at Brown University and the University of Maine, and continued to write and publish poetry, a collection of which was published by the Anthoensen Press in 1967 (Excavation and Other Verse). O’Brien was awarded three honorary doctorates between 1960-65, from Bates, the University of Maine, and Bowdoin College, and received the Deborah Morton Award from Westbrook College in 1985. Throughout her career, O’Brien was active in numerous professional and academic organizations, including Phi Beta Kappa, the Poetry Society of America, and the Mathematical Association of America.