The nature of work in mathematics, however, differs compared to chemistry. That is, mathematics work involves few resources, often merely a paper and pencil. Indeed, in the 18th and 19th centuries, women enjoyed solving mathematical problems as a contest. The Ladies Diary was designed specifically for the amusement and entertainment of women with an appendix of curious and valuable mathematics papers for use by students (Perl 1979; Costa 2000; Costa 2002).
There were many women who were good at mathematics in their student lives. One excellent example was Philipa Fawcett (1868-1948), who was ranked above the Senior Wrangler in 1890, achieving the highest mark in mathematics at the University of Cambridge. While there were other female Wranglers, no other ranked as senior or as second. Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1944), who marked almost equivalent to a Senior Wrangler in 1892, received her Ph.D., magna cum laude, from Göttingen in 1895.
However, seven examples in the history of famous women mathematicians are traditionally noted. Their accomplishments prove that women could be highly skilled mathematicians4 (Osen 1974; Alic 1986). These exemplars include
• Hypatia (about A.D. 360-A.D. 415)
• Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799)
• Émilie du Châtelet (1706-1749), who translated into French, with commentary, Isaac Newton’s work Principia Mathematica
• Sophie Germain (1776-1831), French mathematician
• Mary Somerville (1780-1872), Scottish popular science writer; her talent was highly appreciated though she lacked scientific originality
• Sofia Vasilyevna Kovaleskaia (1850-1891), Russian mathematician, professor at University of Stockholm
• Emmy Noether (1882-1891)
The presence of such notable women contradicts the common myth that women are not good at mathematics. The “math myth” however, has proved rather intractable even today. Witness, for example, the world’s most popular doll, Barbie, and her Japanese sister, Licca.5 Both dolls have issues with mathematics. Licca is poor at mathematics, but good at art and music. And when Barbie finally spoke in 1992, one of the first phrases programmed in for her 800 million young owners to hear was “math class is tough” (Schiebinger 1999). So that, despite the low resource requirements necessary to perform mathematical work, persistent gendered stereotypes have thwarted women’s participation in the field in some cultures.
Computer science is a much newer discipline. However, some of the foundations for the discipline were established by two notable women. The name of Grace (Brewster Murray) Hopper (1906-1992) should be designated foremost among early computer scientists. She worked for the U.S. Navy and was engaged in the development of the first BINAC and later UNIVAC. She was mainly involved in designing software for digital computers. The development which made her name famous was the computer language COBOL. She was the most famous female computer science specialist of the 20th century. But we also find her
4 Osen and Alic are two of the seven world famous female mathematicians; sometimes Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was added.
5 For more information about the Japanese doll Licca, see Licca chan hausu no hakurankai (Exhibition of Licca’s House) (in Japanese, Tokyo: INAX, 1997), p. 5.