Great Women of Mathematics

Today we have a very special blog from a twitter superstar helping to restore the gender balance in the general awareness of historic Mathematicians. @GWOMaths, who prefers to remain anonymous, has very kindly agreed to write for the UoD Maths Society about the Great Women of Mathematics and why the @GWOMaths account has grown to over 6,500 followers in just 4 months.

"When I took my first statistics class, the instructor mentioned offhand once--during pre-class chatting, not during the lecture--that Florence Nightingale played a large role in the development of descriptive statistics. I was floored by this knowledge. In elementary school, we learned about her as the "lady with the lamp," a gentle caretaker who professionalized nursing. I had no idea that she was also a mathematician. Without that bit of pre-class chatter, which happened purely by chance, I may never have known.

The research I did, to learn the rest of that story, led me to do more research about the untold stories of women in mathematics.

Many of the stories are simply astonishing--that a genius of Emmy Noether's stature was not permitted to teach for many years; that Maria Agnesi could have become the first woman to chair a mathematics department (a job she was offered by the Pope himself) but turned it down; that Sophie Germain made significant progress on Fermat's Last Theorem despite living centuries before computers and being barred from formal mathematical study due to her sex.

A few years ago, the film "Hidden Figures" was released, and this brought even more attention to the untold stories of mathematical women, particularly those of color in the United States, who faced obstacles born of racism as well as sexism. Katherine Johnson, one of those "Hidden Figures," died just last month, and the thread on her life got a tremendous amount of engagement as people learned her story.

It would be impossible for me to express what it means to me that so many people enjoy and benefit from the stories and the mathematical community that has coalesced around them. My best days are the days when parents, both homeschooling and not, and teachers send me DMs or emails telling of using the material in their classrooms.

Perhaps the day is coming when no other budding mathematician will be able to say that she had no idea how important women have been to our field before researching it herself!"

You can follow @GWOMaths on twitter, enjoy the stories and join the #dailymaths challenges. You can also send a DM @GWOMaths if you would like to be a guest mathematician.

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