Lovett, Edgar Odell (1871–1957)

By: Clay Bailey

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: April 13, 2017

Edgar Odell Lovett, mathematics professor and president of Rice Institute (now Rice University), was born in Shreve, Ohio, on April 14, 1871, the son of Zephania and Maria Elizabeth (Spreng) Lovett. After graduating from Shreve High School he entered Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia, where he graduated in 1890 at the age of nineteen. From 1890 until 1892 he was professor of mathematics at West Kentucky College; in 1892 he became an instructor at the University of Virginia, where he continued his studies and received the degrees of M.A. and Ph.D. in 1895. The following year he studied in Europe at the universities of Christiana and Leipzig; he received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the latter in 1896. In 1897 Lovett lectured at Johns Hopkins University and the universities of Virginia and Chicago. In September of that year he became instructor in mathematics at Princeton University. He was promoted to assistant professor of mathematics in 1898 and from 1900 to 1905 held the rank of professor. From 1905 to 1908 he was both professor and head of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy at Princeton.

In 1907 he was asked to head Rice Institute, then being planned at Houston; he was recommended for the post by Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton. He accepted in 1908, moved to Houston, and was formally inaugurated as the first president of the institute on October 12, 1912; he continued in this capacity until his retirement on March 1, 1946. Thereafter, he was associated with Rice as president emeritus, director, and consultant.

He was a member of many learned societies, including Phi Beta Kappa, the London Mathematical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Circolo Matematico di Palermo, Société Mathématique de France, and the Royal Astronomical Society. The degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by Drake University, Tulane University, Baylor University, and Bethany; that of Sc.D. was conferred upon him by Colorado College. In 1898 Lovett married Mary Allen Hale of Mayfield, Kentucky; they had two daughters and two sons. He died on August 13, 1957, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Houston.

Sam Hanna Acheson, Herbert P. Gambrell, Mary Carter Toomey, and Alex M. Acheson, Jr., Texian Who's Who, Vol. 1 (Dallas: Texian, 1937). American Philosophical Society Yearbook, 1956–57. Houston Chronicle, August 14, 1957. Houston Post, August 14, 1957. Houston Press, August 14, 1957. New York Times, August 14, 1957. Proceedings of the Philosophical Society of Texas, 1942, 1957.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Math
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Clay Bailey, “Lovett, Edgar Odell,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

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April 13, 2017

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