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College’s math dept. celebrates women in field

Meghan Price | Wednesday, November 4, 2009

­­Saint Mary’s College’s math department celebrated women in the field with the first of a two-part math lecture series last night at Spes Unica Hall.

This first lecture, titled “History of Women in Math,” was delivered by mathematics professor Sr. Miriam Cooney and enjoyed a full audience of students. Alumnae of the Saint Mary’s math program were also in attendance and have also been on campus during the week to talk about their experiences in mathematics. 

Abby Henning, a freshman, discussed the popularity of the lecture. 

“It is very interesting to look so far back and see what women have contributed and to consider where it is going in the future,” she said.

Cooney discussed the advancements women have made in mathematics, not only for the field itself but also for the progress of women in general.

Cooney addressed the lives of seven important women in the history of mathematics.
Through these women, whom she referred to as the “Pleiades,” she explored how much circumstances have changed for math and for women.

Cooney described the difficulties faced by her first subject, Hypatia of Alexandria, who lived around 400 C.E.

“The situation was very bad for women,” she said. “They couldn’t leave their house without a man.”

She also discussed women like Sophie Germain, Sofia Kovalevskaya and Grace Young, who struggled to get an education, get accepted to schools, take certain classes and get a job in the field of mathematics because they were women.

Cooney said despite the hardships these women experienced, they managed to make significant contributions to the world of math.

Cooney said one of these women, Amy Noether, made such an impact that that Albert Einstein remembered her as “the most significant creative women genius that ever lived.”

The lecture proved inspirational for attendees.

Maureen Parsons, a freshman, said she was very surprised by what these women had achieved. She said she hadn’t thought about being a math major before, but that after attending the lecture she was reconsidering.

The next part of this lecture series will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Spes Unica Hall.