Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave

Quick Info

21 February 1876
Streatham Common, London, England
30 March 1965
Shedfield, Hampshire, England

Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave was home educated, then studied the mathematical tripos at the University of Cambridge, being ranked next to G H Hardy. She was the first recipient of a research grant from Girton College, worked with Karl Pearson and published two papers. She spent the rest of her career teaching at Girton College.


Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave, known as Evelyn, was the daughter of Sir Thomas Cave-Browne-Cave (1835-1924) and Blanche Matilda Mary Anne Milton (1851-1928). Thomas Cave-Browne-Cave was a civil servant who became Deputy Accountant-General of the Army from 1897 to 1900 and a Commissioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea from 1899 to 1923. He was appointed Companion, Order of the Bath in 1907 and was appointed Knight in 1911. He married Blanche Matilda Mary Anne Milton in Immanuel Church, Streatham Common, on 30 April 1870. Blanche Milton was the daughter of Sir John Milton and Blanche Matilda Elinor Feild. Thomas and Blanche Cave-Browne-Cave had six children only five of whom reached adulthood: Blanche Isabel Cave-Browne-Cave (12 July 1871 - 10 August 1871); Jeanette Gertrude Cave-Browne-Cave (16 September 1872 - 9 March 1950); Beatrice Mabel Cave-Browne-Cave (30 May 1874 - 9 July 1947); Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave (21 February 1876 - 30 March 1965), the subject of this biography; Thomas Reginald Cave-Browne-Cave (11 January 1885 - 26 November 1969); and Henry Meyrick Cave-Browne-Cave (1 February 1887 - 5 August 1965).

Perhaps we should explain how the family came to have, what must appear, a slightly unusual surname. It was not unusual when upper-class families intermarried to keep the surname of both sides of the family by adopting a hyphenated name containing both family names. The name Cave dates back to William the Conqueror who, in 1069, conferred on two Yorkshire brothers the Lordships of North and South Cave. King Charles I had created the baronetcy in June 1641 for Thomas Cave, who had supported the King in the English Civil War, and this hereditary honour, having the holder addressed as "Sir", had continued to be inherited. "Cave" had become "Cave-Browne" in 1752 and the additional "Cave" had been added in 1839. Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave appears on her mathematical publications as "F E Cave-Browne-Cave" but in her less formal works she gives her name as "F E Cave." We will refer to Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave as "Evelyn" and her sister Beatrice Mabel Cave-Browne-Cave as "Beatrice" throughout this biography to avoid confusion.

Evelyn was brought up in quite privileged circumstances. At the time of the 1881 census she was five years old living at Burnage, North Side, Streatham Common with her parents, her maternal grandmother, her two sisters and three servants (a domestic parlour maid, a nursemaid and a cook). The three sisters were all educated at home and by the time of the 1891 census Evelyn was living with her parents, two sisters, two brothers, and four servants (cook, nurse, parlour maid, and housemaid). She was fortunate to grow up in a family where at least two of her siblings, her sister Beatrice and brother Thomas Reginald, shared her enthusiasm for mathematics. In 1895 she sat the entrance examination for Girton College, Cambridge and was admitted. Her sister Beatrice sat the Girton College entrance examinations at the same time and was also admitted. Neither of Evelyn's brothers studied at university but both became engineers, first in the navy and then the Royal Air Force on its formation in 1918. We give a few more details of their careers below.

At Cambridge, Evelyn was in the same year as G H Hardy and James Hopwood Jeans. One of her lecturers was William Young. Mary Cartwright recalled [1]:-
Frances Cave told me that once, while she was being taught by William Young, he kept tilting his chair until it slipped and he went under the table. With great difficulty she and the others refrained from laughing. He then got up and all he said was, "Take out a fresh sheet of paper."
In 1898 Evelyn sat Part I of the Mathematical Tripos examinations and was a Wrangler. That is not quite correct since at this time women were not ranked in the list of Wranglers but simply told their position between two men. Evelyn was ranked between the Fourth and Fifth Wranglers, so above her were Ronald William Henry Turnbull Hudson (1876-1904), the Senior Wrangler, John Forbes Cameron (1873-1952)James Hopwood Jeans and G H Hardy. In the following year she graduated after taking Part II of the Mathematical Tripos examinations, again being First Class. After this outstanding performance, Evelyn was offered a three-year research studentship by Girton College. This, in fact, was the first research grant that Girton had awarded and it had come about through the efforts of Florence Margaret Durham (1869-1949). Florence Durham had been a student at Girton College, taking the Natural Sciences Tripos Part 1 in 1891 and Part 2 in 1892. She had written to the Girton Review saying that the women's colleges should:-
... encourage advanced and research work and thus to show the world that women mean to do serious work and have higher aims in view than mere success in examination.
This led to the setting up of the research studentship which was awarded
to Evelyn in 1899.

Evelyn undertook research at Girton College, advised by Karl Pearson. In 1902 she published On the Correlation between the Barometric Height at Stations on the Eastern Side of the Atlantic in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The author is given as F E Cave-Browne-Cave with some assistance from Karl Pearson. The paper has the following introduction:-
In a memoir on the correlation and variation of the barometric height at divers stations in the British Isles by Professor Karl Pearson and Dr Alice Lee, it is suggested (i) that interesting results might be obtained by correlating the barometer at stations on the east and west sides of the Atlantic, allowing an interval of time between the observations, and (ii) that with a certain distance between stations, the correlation would be found to be negative, i.e., a high barometer at the one station corresponding to a low barometer at the second. In order to deal with these points, steps were taken in 1897 to collect the necessary material. Twenty years, 1879-1898 inclusive, were selected for consideration, and the early morning barometric observations for these years, copied from material provided by the kindness of the British Meteorological Office for the following East Atlantic stations:- Bødø, Florø, Skudesnaes, Valencia, Lisbon, and Funchal. These give a very fair chain of stations from the north of Norway to Madeira. On the west side of the Atlantic we obtained data for the same years for Halifax and Toronto by aid of the Director of the Canadian Meteorological Service.
In 1903 Evelyn, who in that year was appointed as a lecturer in Girton College, and her sister Beatrice, who was teaching mathematics at Streatham and Clapham High School [3]:-
... were among six collaborators who worked on a large scale study of child development, overseen by Pearson, that analysed data collected from over 4000 children, including some of Beatrice's high school students. Their part-time work for the biometrics Lab was uncompensated until a grant established in 1904 by the Worshipful Company of Drapers allowed Pearson to provide his assistants with small stipends.
We learn a little more about this study from [8]:-
The project collected physical measurements and character assessments from 4000 children and their parents in order to establish evidence of the inheritance of what Pearson called "moral qualities," attributes that we would now identify as aspects of intelligence or personality. Both sisters Cave-Browne-Cave were among the six collaborators who worked on the project. ... [Pearson's] collaborators gathered the data by measuring and observing the children. ... Only a few assistants, including Frances and Beatrice Cave-Browne-Cave, processed the data, creating tables, and computing correlations.
In 1905 Evelyn published a follow-up paper to the one she had published in 1902. The paper was titled On the Influence of the Time Factor on the Correlation between the Barometric Heights at Stations more than 1000 Miles apart and had the single author F E Cave-Browne-Cave. Like the earlier paper, it was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. The paper begins:-
An investigation of the relationship of the daily barometric heights on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean has been in progress for some years, and in a preliminary note by Professor Pearson and myself some account was given of the contemporaneous relationship of a chain of stations from the extreme north of Norway down the west coasts of Europe and Africa. Observations for this east side of the Atlantic have now been copied for twenty years, as far as stations are available from Norway to the Cape, and the only need here is more aid in the very laborious reductions necessary before any inferences can be drawn. A similar chain of stations from Nova Scotia to the Falkland Isles has been completed, with the exception of Brazil, from which, so far, we have been able to obtain no data whatever.
This paper was the last of Evelyn's research publications and from that time on she concentrated on teaching and administration. In 1907 she was awarded an external M.A. degree by Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1918 she was appointed as director of studies at Girton College and carried out the duties of that role in addition to her lecturing. We learn something of her attitude to mathematics and to teaching from a letter she wrote to Nature in 1922 [5]:-
In a notice [published in 'Nature'] of an address by Dr Hoffman, the words are used: "Imagination is what the mathematician is ever trying to get rid of." As such misconceptions as this are unfortunately rather widespread, it may be useful to protest against them. Imagination is essential to mathematics. The work of the great mathematicians affords many striking examples of creative imagination, and for the proper understanding and appreciation of even the elementary parts of the subject the use of imagination is necessary. One of the most important qualities of a good mathematical teacher is the power of stimulating the pupils' imagination, and it is, perhaps, the neglect of this faculty by some teachers which is responsible for the dullness and lifelessness of what is too often taught in schools under the name of mathematics.
Davis comments on Evelyn as a teacher in [6]:-
During discussions concerning his academic appointment in 1930, Thomas [Evelyn's brother] confirmed that his sister believed the primary function of a university was to teach, and that trouble taken with weaker students was more rewarding because one could make a proportionately greater improvement. Evelyn was a gifted teacher who was especially talented in helping less able students: a stammer that affected her normal speech completely disappeared when she was teaching.
We learn a little more of her character by looking at [4] but first we set the scene. William Hurrell Mallock (1849-1923) published the novel The New Republic in 1877. It was a satirical work making fun of several of the leading people at Oxford University. One of the famous people featuring in the novel was William Kingdon Clifford who was depicted as Mr Saunders. Alan Broadbent, editor of The Mathematical Gazette had suggested in an editorial that Mr Saunders's attitude described in the novel was a distortion and not a falsification of Clifford's attitude. Evelyn writes in [4]:-
SIR, - I protest most strongly against your suggestion that Mallock's "portrait" in 'The New Republic' is only a distortion and not a falsification of Clifford's attitude. Anyone who compares the 'Lectures and Essays' with 'The New Republic' can easily see the fundamental difference between Clifford and Mr Saunders. Yours, etc., F E Cave.
We also learn of Evelyn's character from [6]:-
Cavey, as she was sometimes affectionately known, was an archetypal Girtonian of austere and old-fashioned tastes. She was fond of gardening and a former student particularly remembered the zest with which she chopped wood for her sitting-room fire. She was mainly responsible for drafting the original college statutes in 1924. She retired in 1936 to live with her siblings in Southampton, and died in Shedfield Lodge Nursing Home ...
The official notice of her death states:-
Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave of Bassett Mount, Beechmount Road, Bassett, Southampton died 30 March 1965 at Shedfield Lodge Nursing Home, Sedfield, Hampshire.
She was buried in St Peter's Churchyard, Wellesbourne, Stratford-on-Avon District, Warwickshire. Her father, four of her siblings (Beatrice and her two brothers), and many others named Cave-Browne-Cave are buried in St Peter's Churchyard.

We promised further details of Evelyn's brothers. Thomas Reginald Cave-Browne-Cave attended Dulwich College and became an Engineering Officer in the Royal Navy. He transferred in 1913 to Naval Wing of the Royal Navy Air Service and then to the R.A.F. on its formation. He devoted himself to the design, construction and operation of aircraft. He presented a paper at the British Association meeting on airships in 1919. In 1931 he was appointed Professor of Engineering at Southampton University. In 1954 he won the Bicentenary Competition, 'Life in the year 2000', of the Royal Society of Arts, with his essay 'A scheme for roof-top roadways'. He read his winning essay to the Society on 24 November 1954.

Henry Meyrick Cave-Browne-Cave initially followed a similar career to his brother, being trained at Dulwich College, and becoming an Engineering Officer in the Royal Navy. In World War I, he served in the Royal Navy Air Service and then joined the R.A.F. on its formation as a lieutenant colonel. He became Commanding Officer of the Far East Flight but a flying accident on January 1939 caused him serious injuries and ended his active career.

References (show)

  1. F J Albers and G L Alexanderson, Fascinating mathematical people (Princeton University Press, 2011).
  2. D Aubin and C Goldstein (eds.), The War of Guns and Mathematics - Mathematical Practices and Communities in France and Its Western Allies Around World War I (American Mathematical Society, 2014).
  3. J L Beery, S J Greenwald, J A Jensen-Vallin and M B Mast (eds.), Women in Mathematics: Celebrating the Centennial of the Mathematical Association of America (Springer International Publishing, 2017).
  4. F E Cave, W K Clifford, The Mathematical Gazette 31 (296) (1947), 256.
  5. F E Cave, Imagination, Nature 109 (2744) (1922), 716.
  6. A E L Davis, Cave, Beatrice Mabel Cave-Browne- (1874-1947), applied mathematician, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  7. Frances Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave, The Peerage.
  8. D A Grier, When Computers Were Human (Princeton University Press, 2013).
  9. Letters to Frances Cave-Browne-Cave, 1940-1960, ArchiveSearch (21 July 2004).
  10. Letters to Frances Cave-Browne-Cave, Girton College Archives, University of Cambridge.
  11. Miss F E Cave-Browne-Cave, The Times (2 April 1965).

Additional Resources (show)

Other websites about Evelyn Cave-Browne-Cave:

  1. Dictionary of National Biography
  2. zbMATH entry

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update September 2021