Women Mathematicians and NMAH Collections

A photograph of University of Chicago Mathematics Graduate students Julia Bower, Abba Newton, and Frances Baker in 1933.University of Chicago Mathematics Graduate Students Julia Bower, Abba Newton, and Frances Baker in 1933. Gift of Julia Bower. (2006.3037.02)

A photograph of University of Chicago Mathematics Graduate students Julia Bower, Abba Newton, and Frances Baker in 1933.University of Chicago Mathematics Graduate Students Julia Bower, Abba Newton, and Frances Baker in 1933. Gift of Julia Bower. (2006.3037.02)

During the last third of the nineteenth century American mathematics matured and American women gained access to both undergraduate and graduate education. Most of the items in the Smithsonian collections that relate to women mathematicians are connected with pioneering women who joined the growing American mathematical community before World War II. Many of these items were collected in connection with a 1981 meeting sponsored by the Division of Mathematics of NMAH that honored American women who received PhD’s in mathematics prior to World War II.

The objects in the collection illustrate diverse aspects of the personal and professional lives of several women mathematicians.  Among these mathematicians are Olive C. Hazlett, who had an interest in music and puzzles; Grace Murray Hopper, whose illustrious career in computer science began in the Navy; Sister M. Helen Sullivan, whose professional activities centered around her teaching of mathematics; Frances E. Baker, one of quite a number of women mathematicians related or married to another mathematician, was the daughter of a well known maker of mathematical models; and, finally, Daina Taimina, a current day mathematician who crochets mathematical models.