Amy Rayson

Quick Info

26 January 1861
Wellingborough, Northampton, England
27 December 1946
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England

Amy Rayson was a graduate of Girton College, University of Cambridge but spent most of her career teaching mathematics in private schools in New York. She was one of the first seven women to join the New York Mathematical Society, all seven joining in the year 1891. She continued to attend meetings of the American Mathematical Society.


Amy Rayson was the daughter of the schoolmaster Thomas Rayson (1838-1927) and his wife Emily Phillips (1840-1918). Amy was baptised on 30 June 1861 in the Church of England in Wellingborough. Thomas Rayson, born in Great Billing, Northamptonshire, England in 1838, had a B.A. from Oxford University. He married Emily Phillips, born in Flore, Northamptonshire, England in 1840, on 5 April 1860 in Flore. Thomas and Emily Rayson had seven children, including: Amy Rayson (born 1861, the subject of this biography); Mary Evangeline Rayson (born 1865); Annie Rayson (born 1867); Catherine Elizabeth Rayson (born 1870); and Russell John Rayson (born 1879, died 1881). The family later moved to 33 Harcombe Road, St Mary Stoke Newington.

Amy Rayson was educated at home and did not attend a school; this was possible with a schoolmaster as a father and she received an excellent education. She matriculated at Girton College, University of Cambridge in 1886 having been awarded a Clothworkers' Exhibition for proficiency in Physical Science, tenable for three years. She studied Part I of the Mathematical Tripos and was awarded a B.A. (Class II), graduating in 1889. After graduating she taught at Miss Sharland's West London Collegiate School for the year 1889-90. Her younger sister Mary Evangeline Rayson was also educated at home, then became a student teacher at Bristol Clergy Daughters' School. She studied at Bedford College, London, and Girton College, University of Cambridge 1889-1890.

In 1890, Amy Rayson, her sisters Catherine Elizabeth Rayson, Mary Evangeline Rayson, Annie Rayson and their mother Emily Rayson all emigrated to the United States and settled in New York. Amy Rayson taught mathematics and physics at Brearley School in New York from 1891 to 1898. She was appointed as an Instructor in Mathematics and was living at 34 Gramercy Park, New York City. This was a school for women with high academic standards [6]:-
Brearley's founding Head, Samuel A Brearley, Jr., graduated from Harvard in 1871 and worked as a private tutor until 1880, when he went to study at Balliol College, Oxford. He came to New York in 1884, when it was commonly thought that intellectual activity "took the bloom from ladies," and opened a school to provide young women with an education comparable to that available to their brothers. An early graduate of the School later wrote that this "first intellectual experience had a novelty and excitement that it is almost impossible for a person born in the twentieth century to understand." When Mr Brearley died of typhoid in 1886, the School consisted of one hundred twenty pupils and a faculty of twenty. James G Croswell, a Greek professor from Harvard, served as the next Head of School until his death in 1915.
In December 1891, Amy became a member of the New York Mathematical Society. The New York Mathematical Society had been founded on 24 November 1888 at a meeting attended by only six people and a year later it was still very small with only eleven members. All these eleven were men but Charlotte Angas Scott began attending meetings of the Society soon after it was founded but could not join as membership was only open to those from New York. She was the first of seven women to join the Society, all seven becoming members in 1891. It was in 1891 that membership became open to those living outside New York. The other six women were Charlotte Angas Scott, Achsah Ely, Susan Jane Cunningham, Mary Emma Byrd, Mary Watson Whitney and Ellen Amanda Hayes. By the end of 1891 the Society had 210 members, 37 of whom lived in New York, and seven were women.

In July 1894 the New York Mathematical Society became the American Mathematical Society. Amy Rayson regularly attended meetings of the Society which were held in New York. She was present at the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society which was held in New York City on the afternoon of Friday 27 December 1895 with President G W Hill in the chair. She attended the meeting of the Society which was held in New York City on Saturday, 28 October 1899. The two sessions of this meeting were attended by thirty members. She attended the one hundred and twentieth regular meeting of the Society which was held in New York City on Saturday, 29 October 1904, being one of twenty-four members at the usual morning and afternoon sessions. She attended the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Society which was held in New York City on Thursday and Friday, 29-30 December 1904; forty-nine members of the Society attended the meeting. She attended the thirteenth annual meeting of the Society which was held in New York City on Friday and Saturday, 28-29 December 1906. This was the first time that the December meeting was held jointly with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The one hundred and thirty-third meeting of the Society which was held in New York City on Saturday, 27 April 1907 was of special interest to Amy Rayson. The presidential address by William Fogg Osgood on "The calculus in our colleges and technical schools" was particularly relevant to Rayson but must have also been for others since the attendance exceeded all previous records for the April meetings, with an audience of about seventy including sixty-one members of the Society. Later that year, Rayson attended the fourteenth annual meeting of the Society which was held in New York City on Friday and Saturday, 27-28 December 1907. Two sessions were held on Friday and one on Saturday morning. Fifty-three members attended the three sessions.

In the year 1899, Amy Rayson became the joint principal of the Misses Rayson's Boarding and Day School for Girls at 164-168 West 75th Street, Manhattan, New York City. In fact the school was a joint venture run by Amy Rayson and her sisters Catherine Elizabeth Rayson, Mary Evangeline Rayson and Annie Rayson. Their mother Emily Rayson also worked at the school which was in houses rented by the Raysons.

In the June 1905 New York Census, the family were living in their school at West 75th Street, New York City. Amy Rayson is recorded as head of the family with occupation "principal private school" while her sister Annie Rayson also has the occupation "principal private school." Amy's mother, Emily Rayson, and her sister Catherine Elizabeth Rayson are both living at the school with occupation "housework." They have two servants, Rose Sweeney and Mary Burke, both immigrants.

The five years from 1905 to 1910 certainly sees the school growing in size and importance. In the April 1910 US Census the family is recorded as living in their school at West 75th Street, New York City. In the three houses that made up the school, 164-168, Amy Rayson is recorded as head of the family with occupation "teacher private school." Her mother Emily Rayson is living at the school as are Amy's two sisters Mary Evangeline Rayson and Annie Rayson. Amy's mother and two sisters are all recorded as "teacher private school." All four Raysons are listed as having immigrated to the United States in 1890. Mary H Smithett, born in Massachusetts, is employed by the Raysons as a teacher at the school. Elizabeth J Hancock (nurse), Bessie L Hume (housework), Jane Cantor (cooking instructor), Minnie Sinsicwitz (laundress), Mary Hadden (house worker), Elizabeth Fredricksen (janitress) and John Fredricksen (janitor) are all listed as "servants." Six of these servants are immigrants, the only one born in America is Mary Hadden from Pennsylvania. Two pupils were boarding at the school, Juliette Shaw and Dora M S Larass both aged sixteen.

Amy Rayson, her two sisters Mary Evangeline Rayson and Annie Rayson, and her mother Emily Rayson, all returned to England, sailing from New York to Liverpool arriving on 14 August 1914. They sailed on the Cunard Steamship Company ship the Carmania. Amy lived at the family home at 18 Satanita Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. She died on 27 December 1946 and left £8964. Her sister Mary Evangeline Rayson lived at Ashford House, Little Hadham, Hertfordshire and died in the Hospital Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire on 21 August 1943. She left £300. Catherine Elizabeth Rayson took up writing fiction at the age of 92 and, a year later, sold her first story to the London Mystery Magazine. She died in London in 1967.

References (show)

  1. T S Fiske, Annual Meeting of the American Mathematical Society, Science, New Series 3 (53) (1896), 18-19.
  2. P C Kenschaft, Change is Possible. Stories of Women and Minorities in Mathematics (American Mathematical Society, 2005).
  3. Misses Rayson's Boarding and Day School for Girls, New York Tribune (Sunday 21 September 1913), 6.
  4. A Moskol, Ellen Amanda Hayes, in L S Grinstein and P J Campbell (eds.), Women of Mathematics (Westport, Conn., 1987), 62-66.
  5. Notes, Bulletin of the New York Mathematical Society 1 (1892), 124.
  6. Our History, Brearley School, New York City.
  7. Rayson Family,

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Amy Rayson:

  1. Women in the AMS before 1900

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