Monday, December 11, 2023

Stories of Women and Girls in Science

The website for Agnes Scott College has a wonderful collection of biographies of math women  -- and today I focus particularly on the story of mathematician Marie-Sophie Germain (1776-1831).   I quote below a few words about Germain:

Sophie began teaching herself mathematics using the books in her father's library. Her parents felt that her interest was inappropriate for a female (the common belief of the middle-class in the 19th century) and did all that they could to discourage her.  

Related to the idea expressed in this quote is a thoughtful poem about Germain by Colorado poet Jessy Randall;  the poem is part of Randall's very special collection Mathematics for Ladies, Goldsmiths Press, 2022 and I offer it below:

      MARIE GERMAIN (1775-1831)     by Jessy Randall

          What is the mathematical formula
          for frozen ink?  Can math warm
          my ink so I can write?  What math
          will stop my parents from stopping me,
          at thirteen?  They have subtracted
          my blankets, the fire in the grate,
          all light but stubs of candles I've hidden.

          They cannot subtract me, though.
          I'll warm this in with my body.
          I'll call myself Leblanc, earn my degree
          and surprise them all by proving
          that something can hide
          behind nothing.

     A fine article about the struggles of women in the sciences is this piece was written by Melissa L. Sevigny, found here at Literary Hub -- and entitled "How Women and Girls Struggle to Pursue Their Interest in Science.

     I think back upon my own mathematical studies -- and my mistakes and challenges and achievements -- and hope that more people today are replacing "I might ..." with "I can!" 

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