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An Intreguing woman - Sally's Journal
February 15th, 2005
04:11 pm

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An Intreguing woman
Miss S. A. Burstall took the mathematics tripos in 1882, (eight years before Philippa Fawcett) got a top II.I, coming 31st, and yet has left in history the curious quote

"In the opinion of the present writer, who it may be noted, took the Mathematical Tripos, mathematics should be kept at a minimum for girls; it does not underlie their industries as it does so many of the activities of men - engineering, building, the art of war..."

I would love to understand the apparent contradiction in that, but I fear the story may be lost to history :-(

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From:atreic
Date:February 15th, 2005 04:32 pm (UTC)
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Fixed - sorry!
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From:atreic
Date:February 15th, 2005 04:41 pm (UTC)
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Well, my gut hypothesees is something like this:

She must have overcome incredable odds to do the mathematical tripos in the first place, there weren't many women in Cambridge, and most of them did things like classics. So you'd like to think that she had a driving urge to show the world that women can do maths. I mean, she must have worked really hard to do that well. I doubt she was just doing it to please her parents or something. (Although she could have been. But that's interesting in its own right.) And then something broke her to the point where she says "oh, we shouldn't bother teaching women maths at all". Because she felt it had all be useless and a waste of time?

I just think it's intrinsically interesting
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From:arnhem
Date:February 15th, 2005 04:52 pm (UTC)
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I don't see it as "oh, we sholdn't bother teaching women maths at all", but as a distaste for what is done with maths (which should therefore be left to the men and their unpleasant ways).
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:February 15th, 2005 05:05 pm (UTC)
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It could be that she fought her way through because she was ambitious/stubborn/intrigued/etc, but decided she hated it (understandable) and decided everyone else was right.

Which is a tragedy, but you have to feel for people who were wonderfully brave pioneers, but were outshone by someone else, and get called failures, when their only crime was to be second-best, and most people didn't even race.

Of course, that's just a guess. Maybe she was bullied into taking the course. Or persuing a boyfriend who was there. Or pressured later in life to repudiate her earlier rebellion. Or was given the impression maths was engineering and war, when she wanted something more pure, and made a bitter comment. Or the quote was misattributed in some way.
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From:atreic
Date:February 15th, 2005 05:25 pm (UTC)
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Well, the quote came from her textbook "English High Schools" when she became headmistress at Manchester High School for Girls, so I doubt it was misattributed...
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From:smhwpf
Date:February 15th, 2005 06:02 pm (UTC)
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Well, she was obviously extremely good at maths, and must have been pretty committed to it to overcome those sorts of obstacles - so maybe the quote comes from later in her life, when she entered the world of work, and found that the sort of industries that used maths were simply closed to women, however good they may be at maths; and/or, simply she didn't like those lines of work.

Ah, yes, it's clear from the quote that it came from after her time at Cambridge, though we don't know how much later; so could well be the product of later disillusionment.
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From:feanelwa
Date:February 16th, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC)
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I think you're right.
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From:teleute
Date:February 16th, 2005 02:50 am (UTC)
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I read it more that although maths is clearly interesting too her, it's not of any use and therefore it makes more sence to educate women in something that will be useful to them. Possibly she thought it would be more useful, or possibly she took maths to make a point. Either way, she seems to me to be saying that women should not be required to take maths (with the possible implication that men should be) but not that women should be barred from maths. I presume that if she met a woman who wanted to become an engineer she would have encouraged them.
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