It has been said that to understand mathematics is to grasp the universe. Today, Albert Einstein comes to mind as the epitome of that maxim, but hidden in Niagara’s past is another giant of mathematics and education, Asher B. Evans. Born in Hector, New York in 1834, Evans continued his education at the Wilson Academy and later took charge of the Lockport Union School as their principal, a position he held for 33 years until his death.
It would be hard to count the number of young men and women who were given a start in the higher life of thought by Professor Evans. He was generally regarded as one of the best, if not the best, English speaking mathematician in the world. He was also considered the strongest man connected with secondary education in the state. His mental grasp was extraordinary and his teaching power was unusual. Even though he was by profession a teacher of Greek and Latin, Professor Evans was renowned as a mathematician and problem solver. It was said that a particularly vexing problem of the day had yet to be solved by experts in the field until the question was given to Mr. Evans, who promptly provided a solution the very next day. For many years he was a contributor to leading mathematical publications in the United States and England. In addition to mathematics, Evans was well versed in all of the sciences including botany and geology.
Described as a stern teacher and school administrator, he was still well loved by his staff and all his students. Many youngsters learned well the lessons that Asher Evans taught and some even became protégés in their fields. From the Lockport Union School graduating class of 1873, three of five young ladies in the class, Lizzie Kittridge, Frances Prudden and Belle Easton; also received acclaim for their understanding of mathematics and problem solving. This was a remarkable feat inasmuch as mathematics was considered a subject that could only be grasped by the male mind and little attention was paid to teaching women. In fact, testing by the “Educational Times of London” confirmed that women were capable of correctly solving only three percent of mathematical problems posed to them. Through the outstanding contributions of both his male and female students, Professor Asher defied conventional wisdom and created a new educational paradigm by proving that women were capable of competing on the same mathematical playing field as men. Looking back, many agree that the challenging opportunity offered by Asher Evans at the Lockport Union School provided his secondary school students with a college-level education.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094