Books relating to the history of mathematics have been considered to be of the male domain with many women’s contributions to the development in such a profession unvalued and unavowed (Paraphrased Baxter 2008 p13). The purpose of this essay is to discuss the factors in which contributed to both Grace Chisholm Young and Mary Fairfax Somerville’s successes in the field of mathematics; to education; to their own and future societies as well as other academic accomplishments made throughout their lives despite society’s unacceptableness of their gender in such a profession.
Mary Somerville Mary Fairfax Somerville was born Dec 26th 1780 in Jed Burgh and raised in Burnt Island, Scotland. In spite of the family’s felicitous economic positioning, “Osen (1975, p. 97) states that Mary’s education had been a rather desultory one, mostly self directed, quite haphazard and scant”. Wood (1997 p. 1) cites Osen in saying it was viewed upon unnecessary to educate females compared to the opportunities in which males were given, thus she only attended for a year Miss Primrose’s boarding school for girls in Musselburgh.
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Somerville’s contributions to mathematics were incited during her childhood, and the age of thirteen she was introduced to basic mathematics and her study of algebra; as by accident she stumbled across an article within a woman’s magazine. Somerville was able to convince her brother’s tutor to acquire information on the subject on her behalf as it was of non-standard for females to do so in such society (paraphrased wood 1997 p. 1). This initiated Somerville’s interest in mathematics, and this became the start of many future academic successes throughout her life.
Somerville married Samuel Greig in 1804, Mary stated her husband “had a very low opinion of the capacity of my sex, and had neither knowledge of, or interest in science of any kind” (Martha Somerville, 1873), Greig never interfered with her studies although his opinion on “intellectual women was of low esteem” (Osen 1975, p. 103). Mary and Samuel were married for three years. The passing of her husband left Somerville in a position of independency that had enabled her to further pursue her love of mathematics and astronomy freely (Paraphrased Wood 1997, p. 1).
In 1812 she married Dr William Somerville. He was very encouraging of Mary’s studies in spite of the disapprobation it inspired among society (paraphrased Osen 1975, p. 104). Somerville in 1825 started experiments on magnesium, and in 1826 put forth a paper entitled “The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum” making it the first women’s paper read by the Royal Society, and published in its Philosophical Transactions (Wood 1997). Mary’s conjecture in this paper was to become rebutted in the future through further investigations by others.
Due to her achievement she gained the respect amongst her colleagues as a skilled scientific writer (Grinstein and Campbell 1987, p2. 13 cited in Wood 1997). In 1827 Somerville indited “The Mechanisms of the Heavens”, a request from Lord Brougham, on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Osen 1975, p. 106). Brougham had hoped to influence Mary to produce a more decipherable exposition on both Lap lace’s Mecanique Celeste and Newton’s Principia which could communicate a better understanding to a wider audience (Osen 1975, p. 106).
Somerville wrote her second book The Connection of the Physical Sciences, through 1832-1833 and was published in 1834. As a result she was elected into the royal Astronomical Society in 1835 (Wood 1997, p. 1); Critics were amazed that a woman could indite such accuracy (Gould 2002). Somerville was elected in 1834 to the honorary membership of the Societe de Physique et d’Histoire Naturelle de Geneve and to the Royal Irish Academy; other publications produced by Somerville were Physical Geography in 1848, and in 1869 Molecular and Microscopic Science.
Somerville’s publication of Physical Geography was considered to be her most successful and widely used in schools and universities. Wood (1997, p. 1) cited from Grinstein and Campbell (1987, p. 214). Factors in which ascribed to Somerville’s success in such profession are shown through biographies that indicate her pursuit in mathematics was no more than tolerated by her immediate family (Gould 2002). William Somerville her second husband was a very supportive husband, and contributed to her many successes.
It was with the aid of her husband that Mary was able to communicate with Lord Brougham, and In spite of her gender being unacceptable in her chosen profession, Mary never ostentated her natural endowment and successes preferring to keep diffident, respectful, and never behaving in an unfeminine manner amongst society. The Royal Society had a custom made portrait bust constructed of Somerville and placed in their great hall, in recognition of all her accomplishments. Wood (1997, p. 1) cited from Grinstein and Campbell (1987, p. 211).
Mary Fairfax Somerville was a proud supporter of women’s rights in emancipation, education and the anti-vivisection movement (Mishna 1997) in hope to make the world a more equitable and coequal place for both sexes and fauna. Somerville College in Oxford was named after her in 1879 for her strong support for women’s education and the Mary Somerville Scholarship for women in mathematics at Oxford was also established in her honour (Osen 1975, p. 115). Grace Chisholm Young Grace Chisholm Young was born March 15th 1868 in Haslemere, England.
As beseemed with her socio economic status, Grace was home educated by her mother than at age 10 a governess took over and educated her (paraphrased Thomson Gale 2005-2006). From an early age showing a profound curiosity of mental arithmetic (paraphrased Morrow and Perl 1998, p. 278), and with her family opposing her wishes to study medicine, she sought involvement in social work amongst the poor in London before deciding to enter Girton College, Cambridge in 1889 to study mathematics (paraphrased O’Connor and Robertson, 2005).
At the ripe age of 17 Grace Chisholm Young successfully passed the entrance examination for Cambridge University. However she did not attend Cambridge University until offered the Sir Francis Goldschmidt Scholarship of mathematics from Girton College in 1889 (paraphrased Morrow and Perl 1998, p. 279). Being a partial scholarship Grace therefore needed additional money to pay for tuition who her father so generously provided because he believe his daughter had the potential to become successful in the field of mathematics (paraphrased Morrow and Perl 1998, p. 279).
Grace Chisholm Young graduated in 1892 with a first class degree in mathematics at Girton College from which she had attended, and then furthered her studies in 1893 at Gottingen University in Germany, but in able to be able to attend university, approval was required by the Berlin Ministry of Culture (Paraphrased Morrow and Perl 1998, p. 279). In1895 at the age of 27 years Grace succeeded in acquiring her Ph. D. magna cum laude with a thesis entitled ” Algebraic Groups of Spherical Trigonometry” making her the first woman in history to formally receive a Ph. D. in Germany, from
Gottingen on any subject. Riddle (1995-2008) cited from Wiegand (1996). In 1886 Grace married William Henry Young, who was previously one of her tutors from Girton College, at which time was not a mathematical researcher however Grace having studied researching at Gottingen encouraged her husband to commence his research career. The mathematical contributions of Young together with her husband William produced numerous publications of work to both pure and applied mathematics along with mathematical research that played a key role in the development of modern analysis.
Grace published in 1905 her own book on geometry; Beginner’s Book of Geometry. This book contained information on how to fold three dimensional geographical, and with many of these geometrical figures are now used among geometry and mathematic classes of today. (Paraphrased Morrow and Perl 1998, p. 280), Their Joint publication in 1906 of The Theory of Sets and Points was the first book published that offered extensive applications of set theory and problems in mathematical analysis. (Paraphrased Morrow and Perl, 1998 p. 80), Young’s most significant work was accomplished between 1914 and 1916. Young published various papers on derivates of real functions; in this work she contributed to what is known as the Denjoy-Saks-Young theorem (Thomson Gale, 2005-2006). Grace won the 1915 Gamble Prize at Girton College for an essay on ‘infinite derivatives’ (O’Connor and Robertson 2005). Grace Chisholm Young completed all the requirements for a medical degree except the internship, She was fluent in six different languages, and taught each of her six children a musical instrument.
Young enjoyed writing fiction; she wrote one of the first books for children on reproduction, called “Bimbo and the Frogs,” the book was refined with scientific explanations that were not belittling to children. Factors in which attributed to Young’s success in the mathematical profession are shown through biographies that indicate how involved they were in partnership for their love of mathematics, they were both accomplished mathematicians and so William was a very supportive husband, and contributed to her many successes.
Grace Chisholm Young and Mary Fairfax Somerville pursued professions within the mathematical field and both overcame the prejudice and discouragement throughout their lives set by society’s views on women’s place in such time. Their successes in the mathematical profession among other accomplishments gave women hope that regardless of gender ones desires can be for filled with perseverance and without acting undignified of a woman. Two women who have made astonishing contributions to the mathematical profession and who will be remembered as those that strived for equality for women in professions that were considered a male domain.
List of References Baxter, J. (2008) In Cultural Mathematics Unit Information and Study Guide. Gould, P. (2002/06) In Two Good Women or Too Good to be True? [Online] Available from: http://www. sciencemag. org/cgi/content/full/296/5574/1805? ck=nck [Accessed 15th March 2008]. Mishna, M. (1997) Women in Math: Mary Fairfax Somerville, [Online] Available from: http://www. mathnews. uwaterloo. ca/BestOf/WomenInMath7105. html [Accessed 12th March 2008]. Osen, L M. (1975) Women in Mathematics. [Online] Available from:http://books. google. com. [Accessed 14th March 2008]. Riddle, L. 1995-2008) “Grace Chisholm Young” In Biographies of Women Mathematicians. [Online] Available from: http://www. agnesscott. edu/LRIDDLE/WOMEN/young. htm [Accessed 17th March 2008]. Robertson, E F and O’Connor, J (2005). [Online] Available from: http://www-history. mcs. st-andrews. ac. uk/Biographies/Chisholm_Young. html [Accessed 15th March 2008]. Somerville, Martha (1873). Forward to the Second Edition: Personal Recollections from Early Life to Old Age of Mary Somerville. [Online] Available from: http://www. mala. bc. ca/~mcneil/somerville/07. htm. [Accessed 14th March 2008]. Teri, P. nd Morrow, C. (1998) Notable Women in Mathematics: A Biographical Dictionary. [Online] Available from: http://books. google. com. au/books? id=u7nqH3RzUusC&dq=grace+chisholm+young [Accessed 17th March 2008]. Thomson, G. (2005-2006) “Grace Chisholm Young” In World of Mathematics. [Online] Available from: http://www. bookrags. com/biography/grace-chisholm-young-wom/ [Accessed 17th March 2008]. Wood, S. (1997) (Agnes Scott College) “Mary Fairfax Somerville” In Biographies of Women Mathematicians. [Online] Available from: http://www. AgnesScott. edu/lriddle/women/women. htm [Accessed 12th March 2008].