Ida Winifred Busbridge

Quick Info

10 February 1908
Plumstead, Kent, England
27 December 1988
Bromley, Kent, England


Ida Busbridge was the daughter of Percival George Busbridge (1872-1909) and his wife May Edith Webb (1874-1943). We are unsure of Percival Busbridge's occupation and only have the following information. Captain Percival George Busbridge of the 2nd Kent Royal Artillery (Volunteers) was appointed as Captain in the 2nd Kent Royal Artillery on 1 April 1908, in other words as a professional member of the platoon instead of his former volunteer status. Percival and May were married in the first half of 1898. They had four children: Walter George Busbridge (1901-1979), who became a Scientific Officer; Evelyn May Busbridge (1903-1995), who became an assistant Mistress at a Secondary School; Percival Hugh Busbridge (1906-1930), who became a mechanical engineer; and Ida Winifred Busbridge (1908-1988), the subject of this biography. Before we embark on Ida Busbridge's biography, let us give a little more information about her siblings.

Walter George Busbridge, born 23 February 1901, studied physics and became Head of Industrial Liaison, Isotope Research Division, Harwell, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. He was awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours, 1 January 1962. Evelyn May Busbridge attended King's College, London, and was awarded a B.A. in 1924. She then went on to study at the London Day Training College which had been founded in 1902 to train teachers. She was awarded the qualification Ped. in 1925 and became a well-known teacher of mathematics. Percival Hugh Busbridge also attended King's College, London, and was awarded a B.Sc. Eng. in 1927, although sadly, he died three years later on 19 May 1930.

Tragically, Ida Busbridge never really knew her father Percival Busbridge who died on 27 June 1908 when Ida was sixteen months old. At that time the family were living at 120 Eglinton Road, Plumstead, Kent. Percival died [3]:-
... of complications arising from influenza. His death was attributed by his family to overwork and lack of proper medical care.
Ida's mother May had to bring up her four children and she earned her living as an elementary school teacher working for the London County Council (L.C.C.). Ida began her primary school education at the L.C.C. School in Plumstead in 1914 when she was six years old. She spent four years at this school then, in 1918, she entered Christ's Hospital, Hertford, which at that time was a girls only school. This school had a long history, founded in the 16th century, and was an independent school in which most pupils are funded through bursaries. The school had been coeducational until 1902 when the boys went to a new school near Horsham in Sussex. Busbridge was always grateful for the education she received at Christ's Hospital and continued to take an interest in the school throughout her life.

While at Christ's Hospital, Busbridge was awarded the Cambridge School Certificate in 1923, and the Higher School Certificate with Intermediate Exemption in 1925 and the Higher School Certificate with Intermediate Exemption in 1926. On 30 September 1926 she entered Royal Holloway College, giving her home address as 82 Chesnut Road, London S.E. 18, although she later moved to Haremere, Westerham Road, Keston, Kent. She was awarded two scholarships, the Royal Holloway College Entrance Scholarship, which gave her £60 a year for three years, and a Christ's Hospital Scholarship which gave her £50 a year for three years.

When Busbridge entered Royal Holloway College she was intending to specialise in physics and she took the General B.Sc. course in 1926-27 and again in 1927-28. Her real love, however, was in mathematics and she won a Driver Scholarship in Mathematics and a Driver Prize in Pure Mathematics in 1928. We note that the Driver Prizes were endowed by Mary Ann Driver in 1887 and are awarded in recognition of excellent work. Having changed to specialise in mathematics Busbridge took the B.Sc. (Special) course in 1928-29. Again she had outstanding success with the award of the Driver Prize in Pure and Applied Mathematics and the Martin Holloway Prize in 1929, which was awarded to the best single honours finalist in each faculty. She graduated in June 1929 with a B.Sc. (Special) with First Class Honours in Mathematics. She was also awarded the Sir John Lubbock Prize for the best First Class honours of any internal or external candidate. Not only was she the best Royal Holloway student, but to win the Lubbock Prize she had to be ranked first from all mathematics students at all London University Colleges. Busbridge did not miss out on the social life of the university for she was in the Choral Society in 1926 and 1927 then, in the University choir in 1928. She was also Secretary of the Science Discussion Society in 1927 and President of that Society in 1928. Her academic record notes that her friends were Auckland, Payne and Cook and that Busbridge was:-
... most capable and thoroughly reliable.
After her highly successful undergraduate career, Busbridge remained at Royal Holloway College, working for an M.Sc. She was awarded a B.Sc. (Special) Part II with First Class Honours in Mathematics in 1932 and, in the same year, was awarded a Gilchrist Studentship for Women which was based on the results of a Scholarship examination. In 1933 she submitted her M.Sc. thesis Fourier Integrals which was examined by G H Hardy as external examiner. She was awarded the degree "with distinction." Based on the results of her M.Sc. thesis, she published the paper On general transforms with kernels of the Fourier type, which appeared in the Journal of the London Mathematical Society in 1934. The Abstract reads:-
Since G N Watson published his paper on "General transforms", alternative proofs of his theorems have been given by E C Titchmarsh and M Plancherel. These depend on approximations by means of series of functions possessing specific properties. In this note I show that the theorems can be proved by means of the properties of mean-square limits, without using series of approximating functions.
She was appointed as a Demonstrator in Mathematics at University College, London, in 1933 and she held this post for two years. In 1935 she moved to St Hugh's College, Oxford, where she was employed to assist Dorothy Wrinch in teaching women undergraduates. The Principal of Hugh's College was Barbara Elizabeth Gwyer (1881-1974) and she wrote [4]:-
St Hugh's was lucky enough to adopt Ida at this juncture, to present her for Matriculation and to appoint her Lecturer in Mathematics. When Dr Wrinch left England for America in 1938 Ida inherited her responsibility for the teaching of women mathematicians and in 1945 was appointed Fellow and Tutor at St Hugh's.
In addition to teaching at St Hugh's College, Busbridge worked towards a D.Phil. advised by E C Titchmarsh. She was awarded the degree in 1938 for her thesis General transforms. In 1938 she published the paper Dual Integral Equations in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society. She gives the following introduction:-
In his new book on Fourier integrals [Introduction to the theory of Fourier integrals (1937)], Prof Titchmarsh gives the formal solution by Mellin transforms of some dual integral equations, which arise in connection with the problem of a flat electrified disc of conducting material. He suggested to me that I should consider conditions for the validity of his analysis and in this paper I give a solution. Prof Titchmarsh has very kindly helped me with many suggestions and criticisms and I should like here to express my gratitude to him.
Also in 1938 she published A theory of general transforms for functions of the class Lp(0,)(1<p2)L^{p}(0, ∞) (1 < p ≤ 2) in the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics.

The St Hugh's Chronicle for 1939-40 reports [5]:-
Miss Busbridge (M.A. London), a member of our Society, awarded the D.Phil. in 1938 and the M.A. by decree in 1939, is now Lecturer in Mathematics, and will examine for and take pupils from the other Societies as required. Oxford knows her well, for since 1935 she has been a diligent assistant to Dr Wrinch when both were in residence, and an effective substitute when she was abroad.
In 1939 she published four papers, two of which were follow-ups to her 1938 Quarterly Journal of Mathematics paper (published in the same journal), and the other two being The Evaluation of Certain Integrals Involving Products of Hermite Polynomials, and On the solution of an integral equation, both published in the Journal of the London Mathematical Society.

St Hugh's making her a fellow in 1945 was, almost certainly, the result of Busbridge applying for a post at Cambridge since she was frustrated by the lack of opportunities for female academics in Oxford.

Certainly Busbridge gained the reputation as a demanding tutor. Judy Batson writes [1]:-
The atmosphere grew less formal and constrained during the 1950s when older fellows retired and younger women took their places Dr Ida Busbridge (Royal Holloway College, London) became mathematics tutor in 1939 and, until the women's colleges were able to appoint their own tutors in the subject, for many years had sole charge of all women students reading mathematics. She was considered an outstanding lecturer and demanding tutor. Clare Richardson (St Hugh's 1954) recalled that Dr Busbridge kept assigning more and more work every week to her and her tutorial partner until they finally gaped at her in astonishment. "Miss Busbridge just smiled and told us that she had been trying to find out how much we could cope with, and now she knew."
Susan Wallington writes in an obituary of Gay Catto (née Hunt) [9]:-
At the start of Michaelmas Term 1959, Gay and I both arrived to read Mathematics at St Hugh's. Our tutor was the notable mathematician Ida Busbridge, always known as Buz, who decided we should be tutorial partners as we were both clergy daughters and should be companions! She was quite right about that as we became lifelong friends. Buz's tutorial style was to seat her students either side of her at a table while she wrote out the solution to a problem with laborious slowness. We spent many hours that first year following her meticulous workings (later to find her teaching much more valuable than I realised at the time).
Margaret Rayner writes in [6]:-
Dorothy Wrinch had conformed to the usual Oxford tutorial style: undergraduates taught themselves from books, lectures and their contemporaries, and bothered a tutor about details only when it was absolutely necessary. Ida Busbridge, a graduate of Royal Holloway College in the University of London, believed that this system was inappropriate for women undergraduates who had not experienced the rigorous preparation for Oxford available in many boys' schools. She set weekly problems for students and required written solutions to be handed in before the next tutorial, so that she could read and comment upon them. In tutorials she taught basic material, normally to two students, and at the end handed over the meticulous notes she had written during the hour. Not all students found this routine agreeable or stimulating, but students became less likely to give up on mathematics, and examination results improved.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Ida Busbridge was the spokeswoman for the teaching of women undergraduate mathematicians at Oxford, both in the University and in schools, and completely changed how things were done. She maintained good relations with schools and took an active part in the Mathematical Association.
Margaret Rayner also writes in [6] about Busbridge as a lecturer:-
Ida Busbridge was a superb lecturer; her voice could be heard clearly in the largest lecture theatre; her material was perfectly prepared; her handwriting was immaculate. Her proofs and explanations left nothing to chance.
At St Hugh's College, Busbridge was friends with Madge Gertrude Adam (1912-2001). Adam had a major influence on Busbridge's career so we quote some details from [11]:-
In 1935, Madge Adam ... became the first of a long line of postgraduate research students in solar physics at the University of Oxford Observatory. The new director of the observatory, Professor H H Plaskett, was about to establish solar physics as its chief research object, and the Sun was Adam's particular interest. Having just found herself in possession of a first, she heard that Plaskett was asking for research students. "So I knocked on his door and said, 'How about me?'." The woman who became a dedicated researcher, internationally known for her work on the nature of sunspots and on their magnetic fields, was to be a key figure at the observatory for the rest of her life.
Influenced by her friend Adam, Busbridge applied her mathematical skills to problems in solar physics. Her first paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society was On the solution of the equation of radiative transfer (1941). She ends the paper with the following acknowledgement:-
I should like to express my thanks to Professor H H Plaskett and the Professor E A Milne, from both of whom I have received several long and helpful letters on the subject. To Professor Plaskett I am indebted for the discussion on the darkening near to the limb of the sun ... I should also like to thank members of the University Observatory for their interest in the problem and for helpful criticisms.
This was the first of several papers that Busbridge published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. There followed: On emission lines in stellar spectra (1952); Coherent and non-coherent scattering in the theory of line formation (1953); (with Walter Stibbs) On the intensities of interlocked multiplet lines in the Milne-Eddington model (1954); A mathematical verification of the principle of invariance as applied to completely non-coherent scattering and to interlocked multiplet lines (1955); and Finite atmospheres with isotropic scattering (1955); Finite Atmospheres with Isotropic Scattering: II. Increase of Line Strength to the Limb (1956). Her work on radiative transfer led to her publishing the book The Mathematics of Radiative Transfer (1960).

For (i) the Publisher's description, (ii) the Preface, (iii) an extract from the Introduction, (iv) an extract from a review, and (v) Walter Stibbs comments on The Mathematics of Radiative Transfer see THIS LINK.

Busbridge submitted this book, together with other publications, to Oxford University for the degree of D.Sc. After the submission was examined by E C Titchmarsh and D W N Stibbs, she was awarded the degree of D.Sc. in 1961.

Finally let us note Busbridge's work for the Mathematical Association [6]:-
Ida Busbridge was an enthusiastic member of the Mathematical Association. She was a member of the Committee which produced the report on the Teaching of Calculus in Schools in 1954, and also of the Committee which prepared the Report on Analysis (Course I in 1957 and Course II in 1962). The Analysis Committee met on Saturday afternoons at St Hugh's and was sustained by wonderful teas which Ida provided. She was President of the Association from 1964 and 1965 and it gave her particular pleasure that the Annual Conference was held in Oxford in 1965 and that her Presidential address was given in the Sheldonian Theatre.
In her Presidential Address, she said her aim was to:-
... give every girl or boy the opportunity to develop his or her mathematical powers to the full [and to] foster those of special ability for the sake of the country as a whole for the advancement of knowledge.
In 1970, Busbridge retired from St Hugh's College. She died on 27 December 1988 and, on Saturday 25 February 1989, a memorial service was held in St Hugh's College Chapel. A Memorial Address was delivered by the Principal Rachel Trickett. For a version of this address, see THIS LINK.

References (show)

  1. J G Batson, Her Oxford (Vanderbilt University Press, 2008).
  2. J Fauvel, R Flood and R Wilson, Oxford Figures: Eight Centuries of the Mathematical Sciences (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013).
  3. C E Friedman, Strawberries and Nightingales with Buz: The Pioneering Mathematical Life of Ida Busbridge (1908-1988) (CreateSpace, San Bernardino, 2014).
  4. M G Adam and D W N Stibbs, Ida Winifred Busbridge, 10 February 1908-27 December 1988, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 33 (4) (1992), 455-459.
  5. St Hugh's College Oxford Chronicle 1939-40, 10.
  6. M E Rayner, Obituary: Ida Winifred Busbridge 1908-1988, The Mathematical Gazette 73 (466) (1989), 339-341.
  7. M E Rayner, Women tutors in the 1940s and 1950s, Roundup: The Oxford Mathematics Newsletter (Spring 2018), 6.
  8. R Trickett, Memorial Address: Dr Ida Busbridge, St Hugh's Chronicle 1988-89 (62), 29-32.
  9. S Wallington, Gay Catto (née Hunt) 16 November 1940 - 1 July 2014, St Hugh's College Chronicle (October 2014-September 2015).
  10. B White, Series 1: Ida Busbridge (1908-1988), Women in Oxford History (25 June 2016).
  11. K Williams, Madge Adam, The Guardian (10 September 2001).

Additional Resources (show)

Honours (show)

Honours awarded to Ida Busbridge

  1. Mathematical Association president 1964

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update April 2020