Mathematical Women in the British Isles, 1878-1940

This dataset lists the names of all the British women -- approximately 2500 of them -- who are known to have obtained an honours degree in mathematics before 1940, sorted by university, year and class of degree. The archive also contains details of their subsequent academic attainments, and indicates connections to associated areas which require mathematical competence (astronomy, as well as statistics); there are links to biographical material where available. Additionally, for the first time, bibliographic evidence has been introduced -- both Primary Sources (books written by the women themselves) and Secondary Sources, a collection of reference books for information about (some of) those women. The numbers of male mathematics graduates, again sorted by university, year and class of degree, have been included in the listing for comparison. See the Statistical Index.

This research was carried out with a fellowship funded by the Open University. Knowledge of women in mathematics has previously been confined to a small number of prominent women. The aim of this project was therefore to make a full historical survey of those who studied and worked in mathematics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- when serious obstacles impeded the participation and progress of women. (This survey refers to the situation within the traditional British establishment alone: but it is probably typical of many societies.) Though the number of women involved turned out to be larger than expected, the whole range has been investigated, and will now supply the broad basis for analysis that was previously lacking: sampling has been avoided.

Scope of survey

The University Index tabulates the limited number of institutions that were in existence during the period, giving their dates of foundation. Those earlier than 1878 comprised two ancient universities in England, four in Scotland, and one in Ireland, which had been joined during the nineteenth century by two more in England and a single university -- of collegiate structure -- in Ireland. (Trinity College, Dublin, also became briefly involved with English education, when, for a fee, it conferred on qualified women the due degrees that were denied them by Oxford and Cambridge.)

The survey starts from 1878, this being the watershed date when women were first admitted to degrees on equal terms with men at the University of London. The start date for each of the other universities is later, being either the date when women were first permitted to graduate there, or the date when that university was founded. And it is pleasant to record that every university subsequently created followed the example of London by admitting women on equal terms with men (in principle at least).

In the case of Cambridge and Oxford, where women were not formally awarded degrees until 1948 and 1920 respectively, the corresponding start dates are 1882 and 1883, which are the dates when women were allowed to take the university examinations, and were then assessed in parallel with men; so I have felt justified in treating those results as graduation-equivalents.

The end date of 1940 has been chosen to ensure an historical perspective, and also to avoid the distortions arising once more from wartime conditions -- which affected the figures in some unexpectedly different ways in the period 1914-1918.

These new facts will add to the mounting evidence that the further development of women's potential for mathematical achievement only awaits suitable stimulation: women and mathematics can be a congenial combination after all.

For further information please contact A E L Davis, University College, London.

This dataset has been deposited with the ESRC: Reference Number 3654.
The Data Archive , University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, U.K.



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Davis archive index page     Graduates listed by universities     Statistics for each university

Main index
Biographies index

AELD/JOC/EFR May 2004

The URL of this page is:

http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Davis/info.html