Enriqueta González Baz

Quick Info

22 September 1915
Mexico City, Mexico
22 December 2002
Mexico City, Mexico

Enriqueta González Baz was the first Mexican woman to be awarded a higher degree in mathematics. She undertook research at the Institute of Physics, National Autonomous University of Mexico and lectured on mathematics and actuarial mathematics in the Faculty of Science of the University.


Enriqueta González Baz was the daughter of Roberto González Baz and Carmen de la Vega. Roberto González Baz, the son of Victor González and María Baz, was born in 1894 and baptised in the church of San Pablo Apóstol in Mexico City on 24 May 1894. He married Carmen de la Vega at the church of Santa Catarina Virgen y Mártir in Mexico City on 1 May 1913. Carmen de la Vega, the daughter of Fernando de la Vega and Antonia Rocha, was also born in 1894; both were nineteen years old at the time of their marriage. Enriqueta had at least two siblings, a brother Alberto González y de la Vega and a sister. She was born on the Calle de Correo Mayor, a street in the historic centre of Mexico City.

After primary studies, Enriqueta entered the Escuela número 8 for women, a high quality secondary school in Mexico City. Enriqueta's father, Roberto González, believed that his daughters should learn what were considered at that time the necessary skills for any woman. He said "that before anything else they should be women." He therefore insisted that his daughters should study a two year course at the Escuela De Enseñanzas Especiales no 6, also known as the Escuela Doméstica. Among the courses that Enriqueta studied at this school were first aid, cooking and childcare. At this school one of the teachers was Elena Picaso de Murria. She taught English and was the author of several books. Enriqueta took an English course from Elena Picaso which proved important for two different reasons. First if gave her a good command of English which proved useful to her later in her studies and second, it was Elena Picaso who saw the potential in Enriqueta (and also in her sister) to study higher education. This gave Enriqueta the confidence to pursue her dream and continue her education after completing two years at the Escuela Doméstica.

After the 'domestic training', Enriqueta began her studies at the night high school that operated in the old San Ildelfonso College in Mexico City while during the day she attended the Escula Nacional de Maestros which trained pupils to become teachers. The San Ildelfonso College had originally been a Jesuit school but, after the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico, it continued as a school but declined in popularity. It eventually became the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria designed to bring students up to the standard required to enter the National Autonomous University of Mexico. At first it was State run but became part of the university system in 1929, controlled by the National Autonomous University. The Escula Nacional de Maestros began as the High School for Young Ladies but was converted into the Normal School for Primary Teachers in 1890. Having completed her studies at the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria and having qualified as an upper primary school teacher in 1937, in that year González Baz enrolled in the School of Physical-Mathematical Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Manuela Garín was in the same class studying mathematics with González Baz. She described what it was like studying for the newly set up mathematics degree in the School of Physical-Mathematical Sciences [18]:-
The School of Sciences was the adopted daughter of the Faculty of Engineering. We had classes in a little corner on one side of the stairs. There was the blackboard, the teacher's place and four seats. There was no more. There was not a very defined study plan and everyone took the subjects they wanted. I began my studies in 1937 together with Enriqueta Gonzáles Baz, Félix Recillas and a metallurgical engineer named Gal. We were really the first generation to follow a structured curriculum.
For financial reasons, Félix Recillas gave up his studies. There was a rule that courses could only be put on for a minimum of three students so Gal was persuaded to register for courses he did not take so that González Baz and Garín could study them. Although González Baz and Garín had the same academic interests, they were not really friends since their political views were very different. Garín explained [18]:-
Enriqueta and I were not friends because she was a very conservative woman while I was more liberal. Mexico in the thirties did not know what political repression was, so young women my age were not politicized.
The mathematics degree was a new one and the lecturers often gave courses on topics they knew little about. For example the engineer Marianito Hernández gave a course on the calculus of probabilities explaining to González Baz and Garín that he was learning the topic with them since he had been asked to teach it but knew nothing about probabilities. This did not mean that it was a poor course, on the contrary Hernández gave an excellent course. Alberto Barajas gave a course on Modern Algebra using notes taken from a course given by Garrett Birkhoff, while Carlos Graef Fernández gave a course on geometry. González Baz was awarded a Doctorado en Ciencias from the National University of Mexico in 1943. Let us note that the Doctorado en Ciencias was, at that time, essentially equivalent to a Master of Science degree. She had written a thesis on Bessel functions, Gamma functions and Legendre functions which had been examined by a committee consisting of the physicist Manuel Sandoval Vallarta (1899-1977), Carlos Graef Fernández and Francisco Zubieta Russi (1911-2005). When the Institute of Mathematics was founded, Nápoles Gándara was elected its first director. Mathematical research was organised at the Institute into three general branches: pure mathematics, logic and foundations, and applied mathematics. The first was directed by Alberto Barajas and Robeto Vázquez, the second by Francisco Zubieta and the last by Carlos Graef. González Baz's examiners were, therefore, a physicist and two of the three heads of the mathematics research areas in the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Enriqueta González Baz is described in [7] as "the first Mexican woman to earn a degree in mathematics." Similar descriptions of her are given in [12] and [13] and many other sources give this description. We should look at exactly why González Baz deserves this description since the situation is slightly more subtle than it might first appear. From what we have seen above about her fellow student Manuela Garín, we need to see why she does not merit the title. This is straightforward for, although Garín took the same courses as González Baz, she left the university in 1940 after completing the course work but before writing a thesis. She only wrote her thesis many years later and then was awarded the degree.

The other point we must consider is the teaching degrees that were awarded in mathematics by the National Autonomous University of Mexico. These degrees, with an emphasis on teaching mathematics, were bachelor's degrees. Three women were awarded these degrees before González Baz, namely Ana María Flores in 1937, Rosa Aguirre Sánchez in 1940 and Carmen Alburquerque García in 1943. Alburquerque García became a dedicated High School mathematics teacher who gained a fine reputation. Ana María Flores worked for the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and pressed for the creation of a Department of Statistics in the Directorate of Norms and Measures. Although these three women were important in the development of women's education in Mexico, since their degrees were essentially in mathematics education, we believe that González Baz fully deserves being known as the "the first Mexican woman to earn a degree in mathematics." Although some may not agree, this is in line with other places in this archive where we have chosen not to consider a mathematics education degrees on a par with mathematics degrees. Let us record another 'first' for González Baz; she is the first Mexican woman to publish research papers in mathematics which are reviewed by Mathematical Reviews. We give some details of these papers below.

González Baz had been one of the founding members of the Mexican Mathematical Society and was present at the first meeting of the Society on 30 June 1943. There were 131 members at this meeting but only five of these were women, Enriqueta González Baz, Paris Pishmish de Recillas, Rita López de Llergo y Seoane, Sara Rodiles de Ayala and María Guadalupe Lomelí Cerezo. We note that Paris Pishmish was a Turkish mathematician who had studied for her doctorate in Istanbul from 1934 to 1937 with Erwin Findley Freundlich and Richard von Mises.

After the award of her degree, González Baz went to Bryn Mawr College in the United States to undertake postgraduate work. The first volume of the Bulletin of the Mexican Mathematical Society was published in 1943 and it announced the award of a scholarship [14]:-
... from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, USA, to Professor Enriqueta González Baz, to study Higher Mathematics, under the direction of Dr Anna Pell Wheeler; Miss González Baz will give an advanced course in Spanish at the aforementioned school.
The Bryn Mawr College Annual Report, 1944-45, gives the following information [6]:-
The Graduate School of 1944-45 numbered 109 students. There were 100 students in the first semester and 94 in the second (15 withdrawals in the first semester and 9 additions in the second). Of these, 37 were resident students and 72 were non-resident. Fifty students devoted full time to graduate work. ... Teaching Fellows in Spanish: Enriqueta Gonzalez Baz, Profesora de Ensenanza Primaria Superior, 1937; Doctorado en Ciencias, National University of Mexico, 1943.
Over the three years 1945-47, González Baz published four papers. These papers, listed in [1], [2], and [3], are Teoremas acerca de la convergencia absoluta de las series de Fourier (1945), Consideraciones sobre las redes distributivas (1945), The existence theorem for a system of an arbitrary number of differential equations of the first order (Spanish) (1946), and Relacion entre el parametro y las dimensiones de la solution periodica de la Ecuacion de Van der Pol (1947). The article Consideraciones sobre las redes distributivas begins:-
This article presents the results of an investigation on distributive networks that we did at the suggestion of Prof Garrett Birkhoff. Distributive systems are sets that are defined by the following ten postulates ...
The review of this article by P M Whitman begins [19]:-
The author considers systems which are closed under + and \circ, each of these operations being left and right distributive with respect to the other, with elements 0 and I such that x+0=x=0+xx + 0 = x = 0 + x and xI=x=Ixx \circ I = x = I \circ x for all x in the system (but associativity and commutativity are not postulated, nor are x0=0,x+I=Ix \circ 0 = 0, x + I = I).
In 1947 González Baz was awarded a scholarship of $250 per month from 1 March to 31 December to undertake research on the theory of systems in the project Investigaciones sobre la Theoría de las Redes .

From 1948, González Baz worked at the Institute of Physics, part of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (see [15]). She was an Investigation Assistant from 1948 working with six other assistants. The Director of the Institute at this time was her former teacher Carlos Graef. He had been director from 1945, a year when Manuela Garín was working at the Institute as an Investigation Assistant. González Baz's name does not appear in the staff list in the three years 1951-53, but from 1954 she is again listed, this time as an Investigation Assistant for Experimental Nuclear Physics.

Working at the Institute of Physics was not the only job that González Baz had for she also gave mathematics courses at the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, taught at the National Preparatory School and at the Normal Superior School, and was a lecturer of Financial Mathematics at the Actuarial unit of the Faculty of Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Perhaps she is best remembered today as the translator of Solomon Lefschetz's book Topology into Spanish. Her translation appeared under the title Elementos de topología published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1963.

Finally we quote from a couple of the references about Enriqueta Gonzalez Baz. First, from [16]:-
The fight to banish the myth that women are not equally capable as men is as long as the history of humanity, especially in the scientific field. However, there are those who with their work, tenacity and curiosity have contributed to changing the notion that women are not made for exact sciences. Such is the case of Enriqueta González Baz.
From [4]:-
She was a great example of a woman, an example for many women to follow in her footsteps and manage to chart their own path.
Enriqueta Gonzalez Baz died in Mexico City at the age of 87.

References (show)

  1. Anuario, Mexico Comisión Impulsora y Coordinadora de la Investigación Científica 1945.
  2. Anuario, Mexico Comisión Impulsora y Coordinadora de la Investigación Científica 1946.
  3. Anuario, Mexico Comisión Impulsora y Coordinadora de la Investigación Científica 1947.
  4. C Araujo, Enriqueta Gonzalez Baz, Estudiante Digital A.C. (1 July 2020).
  5. N Blazquez Graf and J Flores (eds.), Ciencia, tecnología y género en Iberoamérica (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2005).
  6. Bryn Mawr College Annual Report, 1944-45, Book 8 (Bryn Mawr College, 1945).
  7. Enriqueta Gonzalez Baz, the First Mexican Woman to Earn a Degree in Mathematics, Pioneering Women (6 January 2021).
  8. Enriqueta González Baz, una de las fundadoras de la Sociedad Matemática Mexicana, Matemáticos en México, Instituto de Matemáticas de la UNAM.
  9. E Freeman, Minus the Math Anxiety: Breaking Down the Barriers Between Students and Mathematics, B.Sc. thesis (Robert D Clark Honors College, June 2021).
  10. C Gómez Wulschner, Ecos del pasado ... luces del presente ... Nuestras primeras matemáticas, Miscelánea Matemática 51 (2010) 41-57.
  11. R M González Jiménez, Mujeres matemáticas: análisis del caso en México (15 February 2006).
  12. La primera mujer matemática titulada en México, Solo es Ciencia (14 May 2021).
  13. J R Martínez, La primera matemática mexicana: Enriqueta González Baz, La Orquesta (24 May 2022).
  14. Mexico: La Sociedad, Boletín de la Sociedad Matemática Mexicana (1943)
  15. A Minor García, Instrumentos Científicos en Movimiento. Historia del Acelerador Van de Graaff del Instituto de Física de la UNAM (1950-1963), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (August 2011).
  16. Mujeres que abrieron brecha: Enriqueta González Baz, Matemáticos en México, Instituto de Matemáticas de la UNAM.
  17. M de la Paz Ramos-Lara, Pioneer Mexican women in Chemistry, Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Sciences and Humanities of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
  18. P Saavedra and M Neumann, Una pionera de la Matemática en México, Centro de Ciencias Matemáticas, UNAM (February 1997).
  19. P M Whitman, Review: Consideraciones sobre las redes distributivas, by Enriqueta Gonzalez Baz, Mathematical Reviews MR0029880 (10,674c).

Additional Resources (show)

Other websites about Enriqueta González Baz:

  1. MathSciNet Author profile

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update June 2023