Mary Ellen Rudin was born on December 7, 1924 in Hillsboro, Texas. She received a PhD from the University of Texas in 1949 working in topology under the direction of R.L. Moore, and then taught at Duke University and the University of Rochester. In 1958 Mary Ellen came to Madison and was appointed Professor of Mathematics in 1970. In 1981 she was named Grace Chisolm Young Professor of Mathematics, and in 1988 she was awarded a Hilldale Professorship by UW-Madison, one of the highest honors the university can give to a faculty member. Mary Ellen retired from the university faculty in 1991 as Professor Emerita of Mathematics. Seventeen graduate students wrote their theses under her supervision at UW-Madison.
During her long career, Mary Ellen Rudin was a dominant research leader in set-theoretic topology and foundations. She was known throughout the world for her problem solving abilities. Professor Rudin was one of the first people to recognize the potential for applying ideas from set theory to topology. In 1971 she discovered a topological space known as a Dowker space, whose existence remained unsettled despite 20 years of considerable efforts by general topologists. The modern and active branch of set theory and logic owes much to the discoveries of Mary Ellen Rudin.
Professor Rudin has held many important positions in the mathematical community: Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America, Executive Committee of the Council of the American Mathematical Society, and Vice President of the American Mathematical Society. She was awarded the Prize of the Nieuw Archief voor Wiskunde in 1963 by the Mathematical Society of the Netherlands. Mary Ellen Rudin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In her retirement, Mary Ellen continued to live in Madison with her husband Walter Rudin, also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics. Both were frequently in Van Vleck Hall attending seminars, colloquia, and department functions. Walter passed away on May 20, 2010, but Mary Ellen continues to attend Math Department talks and other events.