Mary Everest Boole

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Mary Everest Boole
Curve stitching

Mary Everest Boole (1832, Wickwar, Gloucestershire – 1916) was a self-taught mathematician who is best known as an author of didactic works on mathematics, such as Philosophy and Fun of Algebra, and as the wife of fellow mathematician George Boole. Her progressive ideas on education, as expounded in The Preparation of the Child for Science, included encouraging children to explore mathematics through playful activities such as 'curve stitching'. Her life is of interest to feminists as an example of how women made careers in an academic system that did not welcome them.

Life[edit]

She was born Mary Everest in England, the daughter of Revd Thomas Roupell Everest, Rector of Wickwar, and Mary nee Ryall. Her uncle George Everest gave his name to Mount Everest. She spent the first part of her life in France where she received an education in mathematics from a private tutor. On returning to England at the age of 11 she continued to pursue her interest in mathematics through self-instruction. George Boole became her tutor in 1852 and on the death of her father in 1855 they married and moved to Cork County, Ireland. Mary greatly contributed as an editor to Boole's The Laws of Thought, a work on algebraic logic. She had five daughters by him.

She was widowed in 1864, at the age of 32, and returned to England where she was offered a post as a librarian at Queen's College, London. She also tutored privately in mathematics and developed a philosophy of teaching that involved the use of natural materials and physical activities to encourage an imaginative conception of the subject. Her interest extended beyond mathematics to Darwinian theory, philosophy and psychology and she organised discussion groups on these subjects among others.

She died in 1916 at the age of 84.

Contributions to education[edit]

Mary first became interested in mathematics and teaching through her tutor in France, Monsieur Deplace. He helped her understand mathematics through questioning and journal writing. After marrying George Boole she began contributing to the scientific world by advising her husband in his work while attending his lectures, both of which were unheard of for a woman to do in that time period.[1] During this time she also shared ideas with Victoria Welby, another female scholar and dear friend. They discussed everything from logic and mathematics, to pedagogy, theology, and science.[2]

Her teaching first began while working as a librarian. Mary would tutor students with new methods; using natural objects, such as sticks or stones. She theorized that using physical manipulations would strengthen the unconscious understanding of materials learned in a classroom setting.[3] One of her most notable contributions in the area of physical manipulations is curve stitching with the use of sewing cards, which she discovered as a form of amusement as a child.[4] This helped to encourage the connections of mathematical concepts to outside sources.

Her book Philosophy and Fun of Algebra explained algebra and logic to children in interesting ways, starting with a fable, and including bits of history throughout.[5] She references not only history, but also philosophy and literature, using a mystical tone to keep the attention of children.[6] Mary encouraged the use of mathematical imagination with critical thinking and creativity. This, along with reflective journal writing and creating one's own formulas, was essential in strengthening comprehension and understanding. Cooperative learning was also important because students could share discoveries with each other in an environment of peer tutoring and develop new ideas and methods.[7]

She worked on promoting her husband's works, with great attention to mathematical psychology. George Boole's main focus was on psychologism, and Mary provided a more ideological view of his work. She supported the idea that arithmetic was not purely abstract as many believed, but more anthropomorphic. Pulsation was also important in her works and could be described as a sequence of mental attitudes, with her attention being analysis and synthesis.[8]

Family[edit]

Her five daughters made their marks in a range of fields. Alicia Boole Stott (1860–1940) became an expert in four-dimensional geometry. Ethel Lilian (1864–1960) married the Polish revolutionary Wilfrid Michael Voynich and was the author of a number of works including The Gadfly. Mary Ellen married mathematician Charles Hinton and Margaret (1858–1935) was the mother of mathematician G. I. Taylor. Lucy Everest (1862–1905) was a talented chemist and became the first woman Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Michalowicz, Karen Dee Ann. Vita Mathematica: Historical Research and Integration with Teaching. pp. 291–298. 
  2. ^ Petrilli, Susan (2010). "Three women in semiotics: Welby, Boole, Langer". Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (182): 327. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Michalowicz, Karen Dee Ann. Vita Mathematica: Historical Research and Integration with Teaching. pp. 291–298. 
  4. ^ VALENTE, K. G. (2010). "Giving Wings to Logic: Mary Everest Boole's Propagation and Fulfilment of a Legacy". British Journal for the History of Science (43.1): 49–74. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  5. ^ Boole, M. E. (1909). Philosophy and Fun of Algebra. London. 
  6. ^ Peterson, Ivars. "Algebra, Philosophy, and Fun". Science News. Society for Science & The Public. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  7. ^ Michalowicz, Karen Dee Ann. Vita Mathematica: Historical Research and Integration with Teaching. pp. 291–298. 
  8. ^ VALENTE, K. G. (2010). "Giving Wings to Logic: Mary Everest Boole's Propagation and Fulfilment of a Legacy". British Journal for the History of Science (43.1): 49–74. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 
  9. ^ Marelene F. Rayner-Canham, Geoffrey Rayner-Canham, p.159, Chemistry was their life: pioneering British women chemists, 1880–1949

External links[edit]