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Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880–1914 by Claire G. Jones (auth.)

By Claire G. Jones (auth.)

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Extra resources for Femininity, Mathematics and Science, 1880–1914

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During the next few years Grace struggled to achieve the future that she had hoped for and, finally, she decided to realign her priorities – an adjustment that contributed to a major bout of depression around New Year 1900. This woman, who had resolved to earn an independent living, acquiesced in putting her mathematical skills at the service of her husband and absorbing her mathematical personality into his. Two decades after achieving her doctorate, Grace was arguing that a woman, ‘whatever her personal ambitions, really longs for a superior male mind’ and yearns for the support of ‘the complete man’.

However, for women these prescriptions were problematic and clashed with contemporary notions of femininity which accepted that women’s bodies and minds were not as robust as men’s. When Henry Maudsley warned about the threat posed to women’s well-being by hard intellectual toil, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson in reply did not deny that nervous breakdowns and ill health were genuine problems; instead she argued that they were caused by a lack of mental stimulation, not too much. 84 However, whereas strenuous physical exercise was deemed desirable for male mathematicians to prepare for the strain of the tripos, women took gentle physical exercise to guard against strain.

Mathematical choices – the options for women After receiving her doctorate, Grace returned home to consider the options available to her; she had resolved to remain unmarried and earn her living by mathematics. Had she been a male wrangler, a fellowship at Cambridge would have been likely, especially if she did well in the annual Smith’s Prize – an important competition for ambitious Cambridge mathematicians. At this time the Smith’s Prize was awarded for an outstanding essay and was open to the best placed wranglers of the year – as long as they were men.

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