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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mabel Frances Timlin (1891-1976)

I had the honor and pleasure of delivering the 30th Timlin lecture in economics at the University of Saskatchewan last Wednesday. My talk was on Secular Stagnation, a topic I think Timlin would have approved of. I enjoy giving public lectures. It's fun to connect economic theory to real world policy issues in a public forum. I think I often learn more from the interaction with the audience than they do. It was also an opportunity to learn more of Mabel Timlin and her remarkable story.

Mabel Frances Timlin was born in Wisconsin in 1891. It's not clear what motivated to move to Saskatoon in her youth. In 1921 she found employment as a secretary at the University of Saskatchewan. Evidently unimpressed with the papers she was typing for the economics faculty, she decided to study the subject in her spare time. She eventually completed her PhD at the University of Washington and become an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan in 1941, at the tender age of 50. 

Her PhD thesis Keynesian Economics was published in 1942. I had our library order a copy so that I might read it before my lecture. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with it. Her book did not consist of a simple regurgitation of Keynes (1936). Instead, it was a courageous attempt to distill some of his most important ideas and extend them using dynamic general equilibrium theory. According to David Laidler (in a personal correspondence):
I think her 1942 book was the very first "Keynesian" text and, among other things, included the first drawing of a demand for money-interest rate curve showing a liquidity trap. Modigliani cited her in 1943, but inadequately. [Correction: Modigliani "Liquidity preference and the theory of interest and money" Econometrica Jan 1944.]
She evidently transformed the Canadian macroeconomics profession in terms of its application of formal economic modeling. She became Canada's first female full professor of economics, the first woman to serve as president of the Canadian Political Science Association, the first woman outside the natural sciences elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and one of the first ten women to serve on the executive committee of the American Economic Association. 

I include a piece below, sent to me by Robert Dimand, that provides a few more details of her career. I think it's quite an inspiring story.  

Timlin, Mabel Frances (1891-1976)
     The Keynesian economist Mabel Timlin was the first tenured woman among Canadian economists, first woman elected president of the Canadian Political Science Association (which then covered all social sciences, including economics), the first woman outside the natural sciences elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1951), and one of the first ten women to serve on the executive committee of the American Economic Association (1958-60), despite becoming an assistant professor only in her fiftieth year, after a long career as an academic secretary. She was born in Forest Junction, Wisconsin, on 6 December 1891, and, after studying at the Milwaukee State Normal School, taught in Wisconsin and rural Saskatchewan. She became a secretary at the University of Saskatchewan in 1921, while studying for a BA there. At first Timlin intended to study economics there, but after seeing the Department of Economics and Political Science she decided (probably correctly) that she could learn more economics on her own. She took a BA with great distinction in English in 1929, and then directed the university’s correspondence courses in economics. Mabel Timlin became an instructor in economics at the University of Saskatchewan in 1935, after completing graduate course work in economics at the University of Washington during summers and a six-month leave. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington, supervised by the much younger Raymond Mikesell, was accepted in 1940 and published as Keynesian Economics (1942). In 1941, Timlin became an assistant professor of economics at the University of Saskatchewan (associate professor 1946, full professor 1950) and a member of the executive committee of the Canadian Political Science Association (vice-president 1953-55, president 1959-60).
     Keynesian Economics did more than introduce Keynesian theory into Canadian academic life. Timlin offered one of the early general equilibrium interpretations of John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory, and was particularly noteworthy in treating it as a system of shifting equilibrium, presented with innovative diagrams on which she collaborated with the eminent geometer H. S. M. Coxeter. Timlin began work on Keynesian Economics in 1935, before Keynes published his General Theory: Benjamin Higgins had come to Saskatoon from the London School of Economics in 1935 for a one-year appointment, carrying a copy of the summary of Keynes’s Cambridge lectures that Robert Bryce had presented in Friedrich Hayek’s LSE seminar.
     Beyond her work on Keynes, Timlin also expounded international developments in welfare economics and general equilibrium analysis to a Canadian audience more used to historical and institutional economics than to formal theory (e.g. Timlin 1946). Timlin (1953) sharply criticized the Bank of Canada for failing to follow Keynesian countercyclical stabilization policies during the Korean War inflation. Much of her later work (e.g. Timlin 1951, 1958, 1960) concerned immigration policy, emphasizing the economic benefits of freer immigration.
     Mabel Timlin never married. Generations of former students were her extended family. She remained active as a scholar long after her official retirement in 1959, publishing a major report on the social sciences in Canada in 1968. She remained devoted to the University of Saskatchewan despite job offers from such institutions as the University of Toronto, and died in Saskatoon on 19 September 1976.
                                                                                                                 Robert W. Dimand
Selected works
1942. Keynesian Economics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
1946. General equilibrium analysis and public policy. Canadian Journal of Economics
   and Political Science 12, 483-495.
1947. John Maynard Keynes. Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 13,
1951. Does Canada Need More People? Toronto: Oxford University Press.
1953. Recent developments in Canadian monetary policy. American Economic Review:
   Papers and Proceedings 43, 42-53.
1955. Monetary stabilization policies and Keynesian theory. In K. R. Kurihara (Ed.),
   Post-Keynesian Economics, London: George Allen & Unwin, 59-88.
1958. Canadian immigration with special reference to the post-war period. In
   International Economic Association, International Migration, London: Macmillan.
1960. Presidential address: Canada’s immigration policy, 1896-1910. Canadian Journal
   of Economics and Political Science 26, 517-532.
1968. The social sciences in Canada: Retrospect and prospect. In M. F. Timlin and A.
   Faucher, The Social Sciences in Canada: Two Studies, Ottawa: Social Science Research
   Council of Canada, 25-136.
1977. Keynesian Economics, with biographical note by A. E. Safarian and introduction
   by L. Tarshis. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, Carleton Library.
Ainley, M. G. 1999. Mabel F. Timlin, 1891-1976: A woman economist in the world of
   men. Atlantis: A Women’s Studies Journal 23, 28-38.
Spafford, S. 2000. No Ordinary Academics: Economics and Political Science at the

   University of Saskatchewan, 1910-1960. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


  1. Hope you enjoyed the U of S! It's changed quite a bit since I did my B. Comm. there. Lots of money has poured in. Hopefully some of it has gone to the Econ dept.

  2. I had a great time there, Prof J. The people in the department were a lot of fun to talk to, during the day, and even into the night. :)