5 Amazing Women of Mathematics To Celebrate

Math might be one of the most polarizing subjects when we were in school. Some students loved it and excelled at it. I was one of those students. Even though I didn’t have a passion for it, I always *got* what was happening with the numbers. And some of my friends just didn’t get it. The logic that seemed so clear to my brain was another language to them. And for most of my schooling, I just assumed that was the disparity in math – some people (many of them girls) just didn’t get it.

Sarah Terry | Brain Magic

But now we know that the problems are much more insidious. Women make up only 25% of the computer and mathematical sciences workforce, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, an organization committed to promoting women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, and Mathematics). And according to an article in the Atlantic last year, women hold only 15% of tenure-track professorships across the country.

There are tons of reasons for women’s lack of representation in math. From an early age, social pressures teach us that science and math aren’t for girls. And later in life, women struggle to find mentors, have to deal with sexism presumptions from colleagues and students, and are less likely to nab crucial publications and appointments that forward their career.

In fact, a recent study found that female math professors were less likely to be seen “brilliant” than their male colleagues. By analyzing reviews on RateMyProfessor.com, the study concluded that there are significant gender and race gaps for being seen as brilliant, which leads people to believe that a person actually isn’t brilliant. Because we don’t realize that our perceptions of people and their actual abilities are often TOTALLY different. Imagine that!

So what do we do about it? Well, one way to encourage women to follow their logical, equation-based dreams is to show them! That’s why we’ve collected this list of amazing female mathematicians who prove that boobs and brains are NOT mutually exclusive. Read about these ladies and let your inspiration experience exponential growth! (See? Look at us talking math things!)

1. Katherine Johnson

If you all missed the movie Hidden Figures last year, do yourselves a favor and check it out. It told the story of Katherine Johnson and her two friends, who all worked at NASA during the 1960s. Katherine loved numbers so much that she started high school at the age of 10. She graduated high school at 14, and college at 18. She began working as a “computer” at NASA, where she made and checked calculations for the early space missions. In fact, she calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepherd, the first American in space. She had a long, impressive career at NASA and was awarded the 2015 Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

2. Hypatia (355 – 415 CE)

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We can’t have a list of lady mathematicians without throwing in a Greek, particularly because 1/2 our Brain Magic team (Amanda Steinhoff) is a Hellenic goddess herself. Hypatia was the daughter of the Greek mathematician, Theon. She worked with her father, translating, expanding upon, and notating his classical mathematic texts. She was the head of the Platonist School in Alexandria, Egypt. Historians widely believe that she was a genius, who greatly influenced her father’s work. And then she was murdered by a group of early Christian zealots. Because smart women too often get confused with Satanists. But that didn’t stop Hypatia from leaving her mark on mathematics as we know it!

3. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)

Alfred Edward Chalon

Ada Lovelace was born into scandal. Her wealthy, smart, and practical mother had just left her famous father, the poet Lord Byron, and the circumstances have long been the subject of gossip and rumor. Ada grew up a wealthy society woman, but she was fascinated by science, mathematics, and logic. Although Ada did go along with certain societal requirements, such as marrying a wealthy Earl, she continued her intellectual pursuits. She helped her friend and fellow mathematician Charles Babbage develop the first computing machine, considered one of the first computers. Ada expanded the work and is credited as writing the first computer program, which she wrote for Babbage’s machine.

4. Sophie Germain (1776 – 1831)

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Sophie Germain was the daughter of a Parisian silk merchant in during the years of tumult and revolution in France. To hide from the madness outside, Sophie took to her father’s library and read about Archimedes, a man so engrossed in his mathematics that he didn’t even notice a Roman soldier burst into his room and kill him. Sophie taught herself math, Greek, and Latin. She wasn’t allowed to attend the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique to study further because she was a woman.

But Sophie was NOT about that kind of sexism, so she studied the lectures and submitted work to the lecturer, Joseph Lagrange under a fake name. Lagrange was SO impressed when he learned that Sophie was a self-taught woman that he became her mentor. She became the first woman to win a prize from the French Academy of Sciences, and her work was used as a foundation for mathematics well into the twentieth century.

5. Shakuntala Devi (1919 – 2013)

[tweet https://twitter.com/AzizAndCompany/status/885544840129376257]

Shukuntala was born to an impoverished family in Bangalore, India. Her father was a traveling magician, and Shukuntala started as one of his early tricks. He had his daughter memorize an entire deck of cards, but they soon realized she was capable of so much more. Shukuntala was a testimony to brain magic, because her magical brain could perform complex calculations in her head. She performed her talents throughout India, and then all over the world, and she continued throughout her life. If you told her your birthday, she could tell you what day of the week you were born. Her talents landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records, and she wrote several books on mathematics, puzzles, and astrology.

Have these fabulous ladies inspired you? What other incredible women make you want to take on the world? Let us know in the comments below!

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