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ma015 - Why Women Succeed in Mathematics Mona Fabricant...

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Why Women Succeed in Mathematics Mona Fabricant, Sylvia Svitak, and Patricia Clark Kenschaft Mathematics Teacher, February 1990, Volume 83, Number 2, pp. 150–154. Mathematics Teacher is a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). More than 200 books, videos, software, posters, and research reports are available through NCTM’S publication program. Individual members receive a 20% reduction off the list price. For more information on membership in the NCTM, please call or write: NCTM Headquarters Office 1906 Association Drive Reston, Virginia 20191-9988 Phone: (703) 620-9840 Fax: (703) 476-2970 Internet: http://www.nctm.org E-mail: [email protected] Article reprint with permission from Mathematics Teacher, copyright February 1990 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. All rights reserved. C ontemporary educational research has suggested several factors that increase women’s success in mathematics, and historical investigations support the validity of these recent observations. Most women in the history of mathematics shared three characteristics: a supportive family background, early exposure to significant mathematics, and available female role models in mathematics. Historical Evidence The first computer scientist, Ada Byron Lovelace (1815–1852), was the daughter of Annabella Milbanke, an avid amateur mathematician, and Lord Byron, who referred to his wife as “the Princess of Parallelograms’’ (Perl 1978, 103). When Ada Byron was a young woman, her mentor was the leading nineteenth-century mathematician Mary Somerville (1780–1872), who introduced Ada Byron to Charles Babbage (Perl 1978, 101). Not only did Ada Byron learn the logic of Babbage’s analytic engine, write programs for it, and develop the logic of loops and branching in programming, but she saw, remarkably ahead of her time, that the computer could manipulate and output symbols as well as numbers. Ada Byron Lovelace 1815–1852
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Over a millennium earlier, one of Plutarch’s daughters tutored Hypatia (370–415), who subsequently wrote several mathematical commentaries, including “On the Conic Sections of Apollonius,’’ which helped to popularize the work done by Apollonius approximately five hundred years earlier. Her main interest was to continue the work of Diophantus, and she wrote a number of treatises on Diophantine equations. Hypatia’s father, Theon, was a professor of mathematics at the University of Alexandria and later became its director. Her father was believed to have been determined to produce a “perfect human being.’’ Consequently, her childhood was immersed in an atmosphere of learning, questioning, and exploration. Eventually Theon’s daughter’s reputation eclipsed his own, and it was said that letters in the ancient world addressed to “The Muse’’ were delivered to her (Osen 1974, 29).
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