Why Women Succeed in Mathematics
Mona Fabricant, Sylvia Svitak, and Patricia Clark Kenschaft
Mathematics Teacher,
February 1990, Volume 83, Number 2, pp. 150–154.
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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