Women in the American Mathematical Society before 1900

The 3-part article "Women in the American Mathematical Society before 1900", by Betsey S Whitman appeared in the Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter 13 (4) (1983), 10-14; AWM Newsletter 13 (5) (1983), 7-9; and AWM Newsletter 13 (6) (1983), 9-12. We give a version of this article below.

Note: Achsah Mount Ely also joined the New York Mathematical Society in this period, but is not included in the list.


The article chronicles the lives of the 22 women who were invited to join and were elected members of the organisation from 1891 through 1899.

Research for the article was done during 1981-82 while the author was on a sabbatical leave. It involved using the archives and libraries at Radcliffe, Smith, Wellesley, Mt Holyoke, and Bryn Mawr colleges, as well as talking and corresponding with archivists at Cornell University, Wells College, Case Western Reserve University, Purdue University, Vassar College, Carleton College, and Eureka College. This research was supported in part by funds from The Andrew W Mellon Foundation given by Radcliffe College for research at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

All of the women in the study were remarkable. They pursued an education during a time when it was believed that women's brains were smaller than men's and that they were not suited for intellectual activity. These 22 women were some of the pioneers who helped to change the attitudes about the subordinate role of women that prevailed during the nineteenth century. They provide examples for present and future generations to admire.

In 1888 the New York Mathematical Society (NYMS) was formed. This group changed to its present name, the American Mathematical Society (AMS), in 1894. The first women were invited to join the organization in 1891, and by 1900 there were 22 female members. These women were all interested in mathematics, and many had earned either master's degrees or Ph.D. degrees in mathematics at the time they joined the Society.

The first six who joined in 1891 included the eminent, but somewhat eccentric, astronomer Mary Emma Byrd. She received her A.B. from the University of Michigan in 1878 and, after serving as principal of Wabash High School in Indiana, she became the first assistant at the Goodsell Observatory at Carleton College from 1883 until 1887. She then became director of the Smith College Observatory and a professor of astronomy at Smith. However, she resigned in 1906, protesting the $62,500 gift from Carnegie and Rockefeller which the college accepted to build either a laboratory or a library. She felt the gift was "tainted" because of the manner in which the benefactors had made their money.

She wrote two textbooks, A Laboratory Manual in Astronomy, published in 1899, and First Observations in Astronomy, A Handbook for Schools and Colleges, which was finished in 1913. Carleton College awarded her a Ph.D. degree in 1904 and used as one "proof of fitness" for the degree her first book, in lieu of a dissertation. She seemed to find it hard to leave Smith after teaching there nineteen years. In 1911, she wrote in a letter to the Colloquium Committee, "It is my wish that my name be dropped from your list. Perhaps I may never again attend a Smith Commencement. The thought of it is painful even now, five years after resigning from the college." After resigning from Smith she taught only one year, as an instructor in astronomy at the Normal College of the City of New York (later Hunter College) during 1913-14. She continued to write many articles, mainly for Popular Astronomy, from her home in Lawrence, Kansas, for many years. She made an observatory station on her porch roof and sometimes used the astronomical instruments of the State University of Kansas for her observations. Two years before she died she was stricken with cerebral haemorrhage. She died at her home in 1934 at the age of 85.

Susan Jane Cunningham, another one of the first six to join the NYMS, was on the first faculty when Swarthmore College opened in 1869, and she remained until she was made professor emeritus in 1906. She was successively instructor, assistant professor, and professor of mathematics, and she taught both mathematics and astronomy. She had studied both subjects at Vassar as a special student during 1866-67. She took special courses in astronomy and mathematics during several summers at Harvard, Princeton, Newnham (Cambridge, England), and Williams colleges. She founded the astronomy department and conducted both the mathematics and astronomy departments until her retirement. When she retired in 1906, the President of the College said, "Susan J Cunningham has the distinction of being the only one in the Faculty who has been connected with the College since its beginning in 1869." When she was elected a member of the New York Mathematical Society in 1891, she was obviously pleased. She wrote to secretary Thomas Scott Fiske, saying, "It gives me great pleasure to accept the honour you have done me, in electing me a member to the New York Mathematical Society. It will not be possible for me to attend many meetings. I would therefore ask that I might receive the cards of announcements regularly." She remained a member for the rest of her life.

All of her life's efforts were bound up with Swarthmore and its students. She frequently raised money for buildings and equipment for the school. The school newspaper, The Phoenix, reported at the time of her death that she had "assisted more Swarthmore students than any other person." She frequently denied herself various pleasures in order to give some money to a needy student, and she also asked alumni for money for this purpose. She died at home, fully clothed, after a day of visiting with friends in January, 1921.

Another of the 1891 members of the Society was Ellen Amanda Hayes who grew up in a family of early settlers in Granville, Ohio. She later wrote about the happy days of her youth and said, "I know no other place where I would rather I had been turned loose to live and grow. Through the loveliness of that valley I believed the wide world was lovely, and in its shelter I was prepared to regard the whole earth as home and all the dwellers in the earth as my kinfolk." She worked her way through Oberlin College by teaching in district schools and graduated in 1878. She was principal of the women's department of Adrian College in Michigan for a year and then accepted a position as instructor of mathematics at Wellesley College. She then became successively associate professor of mathematics, professor of mathematics, and professor of applied mathematics. From 1904 until she retired in 1916, she was professor of astronomy and applied mathematics. In 1912 she was nominated for Secretary of State in Massachusetts on the Socialist ticket, the first woman to be a candidate for a state elective office in Massachusetts.

She wrote eight books and after her retirement wrote and published a monthly paper, The Relay, gave many addresses, and founded the Vineyard Shore Workers' School in West Park, New York, a resident school for women workers in industry.

In the history of Wellesley College it is recorded: "A dauntless radical all her days, in the eighties she was wearing short skirts; in the nineties she was a staunch advocate of Woman's Suffrage; in the first two decades of the twentieth century, an ardent Socialist. After her retirement, and until her death in 1930, she was actively connected with an experiment in adult education for working girls. Fearless, devoted, intransigent, fanatical, if you like, and at times a thorn in the flesh of the trustees, who withheld the title of Emeritus on her retirement, she is remembered with enthusiasm and affection by many of her students." Ellen Hayes died at her home in West Park, New York, in October, 1930, when she was 79 years old. The obituary in her hometown newspaper, The Granville Times, on November 13, 1930, recorded: "The life of Ellen Hayes was a literal dedication to the welfare of others."

Amy Rayson also joined the NYMS in 1891. She taught mathematics and physics at The Brearley School in New York from 1891 until 1898. In 1899 she was the joint principal of the School for Girls at 168 West 75th St. in New York City.

Probably the most eminent woman mathematician in the U.S. in the late 19th century was Charlotte Angus Scott, the first mathematics professor at Bryn Mawr College. Miss Scott, born in Cambridge, England, had been given special permission in 1880 to take the Tripos Exams, the final undergraduate exams at Cambridge University. She tied for eighth place in the mathematics exam, and if she had been a man, she would have been named Eighth Wrangler. However, since women were permitted to take the University Examinations only by informal permission of the Examiners, her name does not appear in the University Calendar. Beginning the next year, in 1881, women were formally admitted to the Tripos Exams and the names and positions of successful candidates were recorded in the Calendar.

She graduated from Girton College in Cambridge, England, in 1881, and in 1882 she graduated with Honours at the University of London. She received her Sc.D. in 1885 from there. She came to Bryn Mawr when it opened in 1885 as an associate professor of mathematics. She later became full professor and remained an active and renowned teacher for 40 years. She was one of the six invited to join the NYMS in 1891.

In 1922, M Carey Thomas, then president of Bryn Mawr, who had offered Miss Scott her position in 1885, said of her: "She has been a very distinguished teacher, the best we have ever had at Bryn Mawr in my opinion. She filled the women's colleges of the U.S. with her pupils, a few of whom are already becoming distinguished mathematicians." After she died in Cambridge, England, November 8, 1931, mathematician F S Macaulay wrote in the Journal of the London Mathematical Society: "Miss Scott was a geometer who whenever possible brought to analytical geometry the full resources of pure geometrical reasoning. She was also an enthusiastic searcher and propounder of new ideas and an interpreter of the work of others, adding simplification and extensions of her own. ... Her rank as a writer was of the highest and all of her writing was singularly clear and attractive." One of her favourite topics was higher singularities and she wrote several papers on them and influenced some of her graduate students to study them for their dissertations.

The sixth woman who joined the Society in 1891 was the astronomer Mary Watson Whitney who studied at Vassar under the eminent astronomer Maria Mitchell. Mary was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, September 11, 1847. She graduated from high school there a year before Vassar College opened in Poughkeepsie, New York. She was disgruntled that there was no higher education readily accessible to girls and was therefore delighted to hear that Vassar would open in 1865. After a year as a private pupil in a Swedish-run school near Waltham, she and her father arrived at Vassar on its opening day. She was able to enter the first class with advanced standing. She early became attracted to the learned astronomer Professor Maria Mitchell, who in return recognised Mary as a superior student. In later years it has been reported that Miss Mitchell "frequently said she did not know which was her greatest feat, to discover the comet which made her famous or to find Mary Whitney." Mary and five classmates studied astronomy and finished their college course in three years at Vassar. Mary's father had died the year before her graduation and she returned home for a year. Then in 1869, Professor Benjamin Pierce, at Miss Mitchell's urging, invited Mary to attend his lectures at Harvard on quaternions. She would wait outside the gate and enter the classroom with him until she felt that the Harvard students had a friendly attitude toward her. She, William Byerly, and James Mills Pierce (the latter two, future Harvard professors) studied a graduate course in celestial mechanics with Benjamin Pierce also. Then she worked several months at the Dearborn Observatory in Chicago, and in 1872 received a master's degree from Vassar. When her sister entered the school of medicine at the University of Zurich in 1873, Mary and her mother accompanied her, and Mary studied mathematics and celestial mechanics. After three years there, they returned to Waltham where Mary taught for a while at Waltham High School. The five years from 1876 until 1881 "were perhaps the least satisfactory to her," according to Caroline Furness in a tribute to Mary Whitney after her death. She found there was no position open to her that used her training and talents.

However, in 1881, Professor Mitchell's health failed, and she called Mary to come to Vassar to be her private assistant. Except for a brief time in 1887 when she worked at Harvard Observatory, she remained at Vassar until she retired. When Miss Mitchell resigned in 1888, Mary succeeded her as professor of astronomy and director of the Vassar College Observatory. Mary was adamant in her desire to prove that women could be as good in research as men. She undertook projects that included the determination of the longitude of the Smith College Observatory and the observation of double stars, asteroids, and comets. Her students were in demand in many American observatories after they finished their training with Miss Whitney. In 1910, partial paralysis forced her to retire at the age of 62. She became an invalid and survived for over ten years. On January 20, 1921, she died of pneumonia at her home in Waltham. In her will she left $5,000 to Vassar to be used by the astronomy department solely for research work. Before she died, it had been reported that she said "I hope when I get to Heaven I shall not find the women playing second fiddle."

The only woman who became a member of the NYMS in 1892 was Ella Cornelia Williams, who had been the very first fellowship graduate student in mathematics at Bryn Mawr when it opened in 1885. She had studied at Cornell in 1876-77 and then attended the University of Michigan for the next three years and graduated in 1880. Next she went to Newnham College, Cambridge, and Göttingen in Germany to study privately. When she applied for the fellowship at Bryn Mawr, she wrote that she had spent the previous year reading the whole of Jacobi's Fundamenta Nova, some of Modern Geometry by Chasles, and Boole's Differential Equations. After studying she taught at the Spence School in New York City and retired in 1926. Her name was frequently on the list of AMS members present at regular and summer meetings of the organisation during her years of membership from 1892-1923. She died near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1938, at the age of 84.

During 1893, the only woman elected to membership in the NYMS was Ida Griffiths. She studied mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge, England, during the years from 1885 until 1888 and then taught in private schools in the United States for nine years. During 1897-98, she took her senior year at Radcliffe College, studying astronomy, Semitic, economics, advanced psychology, and philosophy. She and Ella C Williams were the only women attending the first summer colloquium of the AMS held in Buffalo, New York, in September, 1896.

Four women joined the Society in 1894, the year that the name was changed to the American Mathematical Society. Charlotte Cynthia Barnum was one of the first five American women to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics and the first to earn one at Yale University. She was awarded the degree in 1895 after studying there from 1892 until 1895. Her dissertation was titled "Functions Having Lines or Surfaces of Discontinuity." She had graduated from Vassar in 1881 and taught at Betts Academy, Hillhouse High School, and Smith College before studying at Johns Hopkins University from 1890 until 1892. After she received her Ph.D., she taught college mathematics for only one year, at Carleton College in 1895-96. From 1898 until 1900, she was engaged in actuarial work with the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Fidelity Life Insurance Company. In 1901 she went to the U.S. Naval Observatory and was in the tidal division of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey until 1908. She worked as an editorial assistant for Webster's from 1886 until 1890 and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1908 until 1913 in a biological survey. She did editorial work for the Yale Peruvian Expedition from 1914 until 1916, and for the Yale University Press in 1915 and again in 1918-19. From 1919 until 1921 she did editing, indexing, and proof reading in New York City. Then she went back to teaching mathematics from 1921 until 1923 in Scoville and Columbia Preparatory schools in New York City and at Walnut Hill School, Natick, Massachusetts. She died on March 27, 1934, in Middletown, Connecticut, two months shy of her 74th birthday.

Ruth Gentry also joined the Society in 1894, the same year she finished her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr in mathematics. She remained a member until her death in 1917. She was born February 22, 1862, and received her early education at the public schools of Stilesville, Indiana, and then earned an A.B. degree at Indiana State Normal (now Indiana State University) in Terre Haute, in 1880. During the next ten years, she taught at preparatory schools and then earned a Ph.B. degree at the University of Michigan in 1890. She was a Fellow in Mathematics at Bryn Mawr during 1890-91, and then she received the European Fellowship of the Association of College Alumnae and studied at the University of Berlin during 1891-92. She wrote of that experience, "I assume, on general principles, that there are students who look with disfavour upon anything pointing in the direction of co-education in Germany; what percent of the Berlin students belong to this class I have not the data for computing, but the number of those who have annoyed me I can reckon to a nicety - the number is zero." She seemed to enjoy her year at Berlin, and then she spent a semester at the Sorbonne in Paris attending the lectures of Professors Picard, Darboux, and Raffy before returning to Bryn Mawr. After completing her Ph.D. under Charlotte Scott and Professor James Harkness at Bryn Mawr, she taught at Vassar from 1894 to 1902. She was the first faculty member in the mathematics department who held a Ph.D. degree. From 1902 until 1905 she was the associate principal and head of the mathematics department at a private school in Pittsburgh, and she was a volunteer nurse during 1910-11. She was offered a part-time teaching position at Bryn Mawr in February, 1910, but she did not respond soon enough and it was given to another mathematics graduate from Bryn Mawr. From 1911 until 1914, she travelled in the United States and Europe. A friend wrote about her later that she was increasingly ill from the time she left Vassar until her death in 1917. At the time of her death she had only one survivor, a nephew in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Frances Hardcastle joined the AMS in 1894, too. She was born in England in 1866 and educated there until 1892, having taken the Mathematical Tripos Part I in 1891 and Part II in 1892 while she was a student at Girton College in Cambridge. In 1892 she came to the United States to study at Bryn Mawr. She attended lectures there with Charlotte Scott in analytical geometry during her first semester. Professor Scott wrote in the Record Book of Graduate Students, now housed in the Bryn Mawr Archives, that "she has spent much time on a translation of a pamphlet by Felix Klein, a work for which she has received his permission, cordially expressed. Miss Hardcastle is exceptionally qualified for advanced work in mathematics. She has a superior breadth of view and has done much general reading." The translation was published in 1893 with the title "On Riemann's Theory of Algebraic Functions and Their Integrals: A Supplement to the Usual Treatises." In 1897, the French publication by A Rebière, "Les Femmes dans la Science," mentioned the translation and then incorrectly assumed, "Cette demoiselle est probablement américaine." Frances stayed in the United States until 1901, spending most of her time studying mathematics. She was an Honorary Fellow in mathematics at the University of Chicago in 1893-94 and then received a fellowship at Bryn Mawr for 1894-95. During that year she studied advanced analytical geometry, which was a continuation of her work at Chicago the previous year. She was particularly interested in the theory of point-groups on curves, and Miss Scott wrote: "The field to be covered is so wide that no very speedy results can be looked for. ... The strength of her work lies in her breadth of view, which should be of great service to her in the investigation she has undertaken." The Bryn Mawr literary publication, The Lantern, in June, 1895, reported that "a conference of graduate students from 20 colleges and universities was held in New York in April, 1895," and Frances Hardcastle was one of two delegates from Bryn Mawr. She was then the president of the Graduate Club. She never earned a degree at an American school before she returned to England in 1901. She died there on December 26, 1941.

Fanny Rysam Mulford Hitchcock joined the AMS in 1894 and remained a member until 1910. She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in the same year, and her dissertation was titled "Tungstates and Molybdates of the Rare Earths." She was director of the graduate department for women at the University of Pennsylvania from 1897 until 1902 when she became director of Women's Studies. She was elected a member of Sigma Xi in 1910. When she died in 1936 at her home in Warwick, New York, she left part of her estate to the University of Pennsylvania Trustees to "provide for the professional, technical, and vocational training of women, either in the regular departments of the University now open to women, or in a separate department as the Trustees may deem best, ... provided that such departments shall, in all cases, be open to men on the same terms as to woman."

The only woman elected to membership in the Society in 1895 was Sarah Antoinette Acer who received her A.B. from Vassar in 1884. It is thought that she changed her first name to Sarah in 1894, as she was Kittie Antoinette Acer before then. She taught mathematics at Wells College from 1886 until 1896 when she resigned to marry Dr Edward Fulton, Professor of English at Wells. They remained at Wells until 1900 when they travelled to London where Sarah did settlement work. In 1901 her husband accepted a position at the University of Illinois as Professor of English Literature, and they were still there when Sarah died in 1913.

In 1896, Estella Kate Wentz joined the AMS. She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 8, 1866, and received a B.S. degree from Purdue in 1887 and an M.S. in 1890. She was a mathematics instructor at Purdue from 1888 until 1892 when she entered the graduate school at Cornell to earn a masters degree in mathematics, which she completed in 1894. She taught at Emmerich Manual Training High School in Indianapolis from the time it opened in 1895 until her retirement in 1931. When the mathematics department was formed in 1904, she was made the head and held that position until her retirement. Her obituary in the Indianapolis Sunday Star, August 7, 1938, said that she was "known widely as an outstanding mathematics teacher," and the principal of Manual High School indicated she had "unusual ability to inspire boys."

Five women were elected to membership in the Society in 1897. One was Annie Louise MacKinnon Fitch who had earned her Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell in 1894. Her dissertation was titled "Concomitant Binary Forms in Terms of the Roots." In that same year she was awarded the Association of Collegiate Alumnae European Fellowship to study mathematics at Göttingen University, where she stayed until 1896. While she was abroad she was elected an alumnae member of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at the University of Kansas where she had earned both her B.S. and M.S. degrees. When she returned to the U.S., she became Professor of Mathematics at Wells College, succeeding Sarah Acer. She served as registrar as well until 1901 when she married Edward Fitch, Professor of Greek at Hamilton College. The Fitchs lived in Clinton, New York, and Annie was active in many organisations. She devoted much time and energy to the task of encouraging women to take a public interest, not only in their local community, but also in the affairs of the state end nation. A few months before she died at the age of 72 in 1940, she wrote to a friend, "It seems to me worthwhile that some women are intelligent about things mathematical even if their own accomplishments are not great."

Ada Isabel Maddison, another woman elected to the AMS in 1897, knew Annie Louise MacKinnon in Germany at Göttingen. She was born in Cumberland, England, and studied at the University College of South Wales for four years and at Girton College, Cambridge, for three years. In 1892, she passed both the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, first class, equal to the 27th Wrangler, and the exams of the Mathematical Honour School at Oxford University. She then entered Bryn Mawr as a graduate student and studied with Charlotte Scott. Dr Scott wrote in the graduate students' record book, "she has been pursuing an investigation relating to the singular solutions of differential equations. Miss Maddison has a powerful mind and excellent training." In 1894 she was the first student to win the Mary E Garrett Fellowship from Bryn Mawr for study abroad and she chose to study at Göttingen. Then she returned to Bryn Mayr and completed her Ph.D. in 1896 with her dissertation "On Singular Solutions of Differential Equations of the First Order in Two Variables, and the Geometrical Properties of Certain Invariants and Covariants of Their Complete Primitives." She taught mathematics at Bryn Mawr until 1904 when she was made assistant to President M Carey Thomas. She continued as assistant to the president in addition to her position as Recording Dean from 1910 until she retired in 1926. In 1937, she wrote in a letter, "I confess to feeling ashamed of having deserted mathematics for a less rarefied atmosphere of work among people and things, but I still have my old allegiance to the most perfect of sciences." She died at her home in Wayne, Pennsylvania, at the age of 81 in 1950.

Anna Helene Palmie earned a Ph.B. from Cornell in 1890 and was a graduate fellow in mathematics there until 1892 when she accepted a position at the newly founded Women's College of Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She became professor of mathematics in 1895 and joined the AMS in 1897. At the time of her retirement in June 1928, she said, "Teaching mathematics is a wonderful way to know and study youth. In the early days, every girl studied it. I did all the teaching of it. So I knew every girl. Living in the dormitory, with my youthful appearance - though I was really much older than any of them - made me fully one with them. I think the thing that makes it less hard for me to resign is that the growth of classes has lessened this intimate relation." She was made Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and retired to Florida where she died in 1946 at the age of 83.

Another new member to the Society in 1897 was Mary Underhill who was elected at the annual meeting in December. Mary was a Quaker and grew up with seven siblings near Glen Head on Long Island. She attended the Friends Academy of Locust Valley, New York, and then went to Swarthmore College. She was active in the Somerville Literary Society. There were three such literary societies on campus, but Mary's was the only one which was all-women's. Although Somerville was ostensibly an academic-oriented club, it apparently was also an early-day feminists' group. Named for an early women's leader and mathematician, Mary Somerville, the society devoted much of its energies toward raising money for the construction of a women's gymnasium for the college, which was actually built in 1894. In that same year, Mary graduated in a class of 45, one of two women students to receive a bachelor of science degree. She returned to Swarthmore the following year and earned an M.S. degree. When she joined the AMS she was a teacher at Georges School, in Pennsylvania, and later she taught in New York City schools. She retired from the New York public school system in 1929 and then taught in a private school in Auburndale, Massachusetts. She remained single all her life and died in July, 1958, at age 81.

Mary Frances Winston Newson was the first American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from a European university. She received her degree from Göttingen in 1897, having studied there from 1893 until 1896. When she returned to the U.S. in 1896 with her dissertation, "Riemann's Case of Lane's Differential Equation," ready to be published, she found that no printer here could print the German symbols, so she had to send it back to Germany and her degree was granted after it was published.

Mary grew up in Illinois and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1889. She taught for two years and then won the mathematics fellowship to Bryn Mawr in 1891. She studied at the new University of Chicago in 1892-93 and met Felix Klein at the International Mathematical Congress at the World's Columbian Exposition in Evanston, Illinois, in 1893. He urged her to come to Göttingen to study, although he could not assure her that she would be admitted. It was during her years in Germany that she knew both Annie Louise MacKinnon and Isabel Madison.

She was head of the mathematics department at Kansas State Agricultural College from 1897 until she resigned to marry Henry Byron Newson in 1900. She translated Hilbert's 1900 lecture to the Second International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris for the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society in 1902, with the author's permission, under the title "Mathematical Problems." Her husband, acting head of the mathematics department at the University of Kansas, was listed 37th in the list of leading mathematicians in American Men of Science, in 1903. He died in 1910 of a heart attack and left Mary with three small children. She found a teaching position at Washburn College in Topeka, Kansas, in 1913, and in 1921 she became head of the mathematics department at Eureka College in Illinois. When she was invited to be a guest at the luncheon meeting of the combined AMS and Mathematical Association of America meetings in State College, Pennsylvania, in 1937, along with other women who had earned early Ph.D.'s in mathematics, she wrote that it would be a "great honour to be a guest at your luncheon. I am very humble about my claims as an early research student as I know how completely I have neglected that type of work these many years. ... I shall certainly be glad to see Annie MacKinnon Fitch again. She is the only person of my acquaintance who is such a worthless correspondent as I am - at least who has nearly attained the distinction of being my equal in that respect. In consequence, we have never corresponded in the least. ... Isabel Maddison was well known to me .... Oh, yes, Ruth Gentry was always just ahead of me. When I applied for the Bryn Mawr fellowship in 1890, she was ahead of me, received the fellowship for '90 and '91, but Miss Scott wrote and told me to apply next year. In the fall of '93 when I was thinking of going to Europe, I was offered a temporary job at Vassar, Miss Gentry having been awarded the position but given a leave of absence for a year. I went to Germany instead. A few years after I went to Lawrence, I saw her name in a paper as visiting in Kansas City and wanted to arrange to meet her but I had two small children and put it off, and never saw her."

Mary was honoured at the Women's Centennial Congress in 1940 (as one of the 100 women who held positions not open to women in 1840). She retired in 1942 and lived until she was 90 in 1959.

The last three women elected to the AMS before 1900 were chosen in 1899. One of them was Carrie Hammerslough. She entered Bernard College in 1892 and was a good student throughout her college career. Her senior essay was titled "The Cartesian Oval," and at graduation in 1896 she received the Kohn Mathematical Prize of $50. She stayed at Barnard the following year and received her M.A. in 1897. She studied further at Columbia from 1898 until 1904 and was also a private tutor in New York City until 1907. In that year she married Edward Hymes. She had two sons and later became a volunteer teacher at the Crippled Children's Guild. According to the Columbia alumnae register, her husband had died by 1947 and she was deceased by 1957.

Emilie Norton Martin was also elected in 1899, the same year she completed her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr. She had earned an A.B. at Bryn Mawr in 1894 and was a graduate student at both Bryn Mawr and Göttingen in Germany during the five years from 1894 until 1899. At the beginning of her graduate work, Professor Charlotte Scott wrote that "she has been reading Salmon's Higher Plane Curves, reserving difficulties for discussion .... She is a very good student, with more independent power of work than most of her age; she is well able to grapple with difficulties on her own account, and ought certainly to be encouraged to devote herself to her mathematical work." Her physics professor, A S Mackenzie, wrote of her work in the lab, "Miss Martin progressed considerably but has not yet developed sufficient self-reliance to go on by herself. She is not handy about the use of instruments nor very full of "mechanical resources."

In recommending her as a teacher in 1899, M Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr, wrote, Miss Martin's work both as a graduate and undergraduate student was so excellent that she was awarded by the Faculty the Mary E Garrett European Fellowship of the value of $500 and spent the year '97-'98 abroad studying mathematics with Professor Klein of Göttingen. ... She is one of the best private coaches we have ever had and has got a great many candidates through our exams in Latin, although her specialty is mathematics. She is very able and if you did not object to her personality would, I feel sure, make a most excellent teacher of both Latin and mathematics. Her personality you would have to judge of yourself." From 1899 until 1902 she was a private tutor in mathematics and Latin and also taught in Misses Kirk's School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. Then in 1902 she began as an instructor in mathematics at Mt Holyoke College. She remained there until she retired as professor and head of the department in 1935.

During the greater part of her stay at Mt Holyoke, she was a resident faculty member in Pearsons Hall on campus. In her annual department report at the end of the 1931-32 year, she wrote, "The new curriculum has had a strong effect this year upon the Department of Mathematics. Since it was no longer necessary for a student upon entering college to choose either an exact science or mathematics, ... the number of those electing the first courses in college mathematics fell off to about one hundred, making it possible to handle them in five sections .... This year there were only five seniors claiming mathematics as a major subject; on the other hand there were twenty who had it as a minor. ... We always try to give enough courses so that a major student may follow her main interest. The divisions that we find most useful ... are algebra, including all the higher analysis, pure geometry whether synthetic or projective, and analytical geometry. ... There is one course that is given every other year that is always filled and that is the course on Probabilities. This is a discussion of the theorems that lie at the basis of all sound statistical work, so it is a favourite with the minors in mathematics who are taking a major in economics." She also indicated that she, other faculty in the department, and students majoring in science and mathematics had participated in several meetings of students and faculty in various colleges in the Connecticut Valley. She had given a talk at the fall meeting of the Connecticut Valley Branch of the New England Association of Teachers of Mathematics on "The geometric representation of functions of complex variables." Near the end of the 1931-32 report she was a little philosophical. She reported that a "noticeable feature" of her annual report was that "there is so little that seems new in any year." She explained that it was "unavoidable," since students needed to take their courses in sequence in mathematics. Then she continued, "It is in great part this uniformity of material from year to year that makes us welcome the opportunity to break through these lines by way of graduate students. ... The opportunity to work with such young women is too tempting to resist, but when those hours are added to a full undergraduate program, one wonders." Miss Martin retired after the 1934-35 school year and died the following February at the a age of 66.

Ruth Goulding Wood was the other woman elected to membership in 1899. She was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1875, and she earned a B.L. degree from Smith College in 1898. In her class history letter written to her classmates in 1913, she indicated that her interests "have been simply and solely Mathematics and Smith College." She earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale University in 1901 and then taught for a year at Mt Holyoke College. In 1902 she returned to Smith as an instructor and remained there until she retired. During the 1908-09 school year she studied at Göttingen University in Germany, continuing her interest in non-Euclidean geometry. In 1912 she attended the International Congress of Mathematicians in Cambridge, England. She was well-liked by students and faculty at Smith. In a tribute to her when she retired in 1935, a 1923 graduate wrote, "It is rarely that one encounters Miss Wood's peculiar ability to understand students, to know them often better than they know themselves, to see how their minds work, to draw them out and draw out of them qualities they never knew they possessed." The faculty meeting on June 8, 1939, after her death in May of that year, recorded, "Many generations of students have found stimulus in her friendly criticism, encouragement in her sympathetic understanding, inspiration in her scholarship. Her colleagues have profited by her ready cooperation, keen intelligence and substantial common sense. No one of them can forget her sturdy insistence on careful thinking and honest dealing." A year before she died, she entertained her class of 1898 in her garden which was full of beautiful flowers she had grown. In her will she left a trust fund to be turned over to the trustees of Smith College to assist in paying "one or more women professors in the mathematics department a salary equal to the highest salary paid to any member of the teaching staff of the College."

All of these women were remarkable. They pursued an education during a time when it was believed that women's brains were smaller than men's and that they were not suited for intellectual activity. These 22 women were some of the pioneers who helped to change the attitudes about the subordinate role of women that prevailed during the nineteenth century.

It is noteworthy that nine of them pursued the study of mathematics not only in the U.S. but also abroad in England and/or Germany. Furthermore, many of them stayed in their positions in mathematics departments for many years, rising to positions of respect and esteem as professors and/or heads of departments. They were committed to giving the best training in mathematics possible to new generations of students. They all excelled in both perseverance and scholarship, and they provide examples for present and future generations to admire.

Last Updated June 2023