Mathematical Women in the British Isles, 1878-1940

New research identifies 2,500 honours graduates
Women and mathematics a congenial combination after all !

A dataset has been compiled which lists the names of all women honours graduates in mathematics, sorted by university, year and class of degree. It contains items of information relating to subsequent academic achievement, and an indication of whether an individual published. The numbers of male mathematics graduates, again sorted by university, year and class of degree, are included for the purpose of comparison.

This research was carried out on a fellowship funded by the Open University. Its aim was to provide a quantified assessment of the opportunities for mathematical training taken by women within the traditional British establishment of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -- putting particular emphasis on bibliographical evidence. And the selected structure will make it possible to trace connections to associated areas which require mathematical competence (astronomy, as well as statistics). Though larger than expected, the whole field has been examined, and will now supply the broad basis for analysis that was previously lacking: sampling has not been necessary.

Scope of survey

A total of nineteen institutions were investigated within the period. Those existing in 1878 comprised two ancient universities in England, and four in Scotland, 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 women who had qualified for them the 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 (eighteen) 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 created subsequently 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 once more to avoid the effects of wartime conditions -- which distorted 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.

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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