Muriel Kennett Wales

Born: 9 June 1913 in Belfast, Ireland
Died: 8 August 2009 in Vancouver, Canada

Muriel Wales' parents were William Kennett and Alice Girvan. Her father is believed to have died shortly before or after her birth and her mother later remarried George Wales in Canada, Muriel being brought up with his last name. Muriel's mother Alice Girvan was born in Belfast on 6 February 1889 to James Girvan and Jennie Mclean. Alice married William Kennett, also from Belfast, in the second half of 1910 (the wedding was registered in the final three months of 1910) in Belfast. Alice Kennett sailed to Canada with her one year old daughter arriving on 26 September 1914. The ship manifesto says Alice was going to British Columbia to see her sister who was resident there.

On 19 October 1916, Alice Kennett married George Frederick Wales in Vancouver, Canada. One assumes that from that time on George and Alice Wales called their daughter Muriel Wales. George Frederick Wales, who worked in a shipping company, was not a Canadian, for he was born in Margate in England. A baby boy was born to George and Alice Wales in 1917 but he died within a couple of days. They had no further children.

Muriel Wales studied at the University of British Columbia and was awarded a B.A. in 1934 and an M.A. three years later. Her M.A. thesis at the University of British Columbia was the 40-page 'Determination of Bases for Certain Quartic Number Fields'. She was an assistant in the Mathematics Department at the University of British Columbia in session 1937-38. She then went to the University of Toronto where she undertook research advised by Samuel Beatty. At the time that Wales undertook research in Toronto, Beatty was Head of the Mathematics Department and also Dean of the Faculty of Arts. Wales was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Toronto in 1941 for her 80-page thesis Theory of algebraic functions based on the use of cycles. In 1944 she, together with Samuel Beatty, published the paper Theory of algebraic functions based on the use of cycles based on the work of her thesis.

After the award of her doctorate, Wales was engaged in government research work in Toronto. She then worked on the atomic bomb at the Montreal Laboratory from 1944 to 1949. In fact she was one of a number of women who became members of a group of scientists working on this project in Montreal. While undertaking research at the Montreal Laboratory she wrote the paper 'Fast fission in tubes' in collaboration with M Goldstein and A S Lodge. In 1949 she returned to live with her parents at 1622 Grant Street, Vancouver. She donated to the University of British Columbia funds in 1950. Her occupation from 1950 to 1968 was listed in registered voters lists a "claims agent" and it is certainly probable that this was a position in her step-father's shipping company. George Wales died in 1959 and Alice Wales died in 1979. Muriel Wales had retired by 1972 and she continued to live at 1622 Grant Street, Vancouver.

Finally let us comment that we would like to know more about Muriel Wales and would encourage anyone with further information to contact us. She was certainly one of the first women born in Ireland to be awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics so more details would be very welcome.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

April 2016
MacTutor History of Mathematics