Philippa Fawcett

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Philippa Fawcett
Phillipafawcett.jpg
Philippa Garrett Fawcett (1868-1948)
Born (1868-04-04)4 April 1868
Died 10 June 1948(1948-06-10) (aged 80)
Residence UK
Nationality British
Fields Mathematician
Institutions London County Council
Alma mater Newnham College, Cambridge
Academic advisors Ernest William Hobson
Known for First female Senior Wrangler

Philippa Garrett Fawcett (4 April 1868 - 10 June 1948) was an English mathematician and educationalist.

Family[edit]

She was the daughter of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett and of Henry Fawcett MP, Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and Postmaster General in Gladstone's government. Her aunt was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first English female doctor.

Education[edit]

Philippa Fawcett was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge which had been co-founded by her mother. In 1890 Fawcett became the first woman to obtain the top score in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams. The results were always highly publicised, with the top scorers receiving great acclaim. Her score was 13 per cent higher than the second highest score, but she did not receive the title of senior wrangler, as only men were then ranked, with women listed separately. Women had been allowed to take the Tripos since 1881, after Charlotte Angas Scott was unofficially ranked as eighth wrangler. When the women's list was announced Fawcett was described as "above the senior wrangler".

Coming amidst the women's suffrage movement, Fawcett's feat gathered worldwide media coverage, spurring much discussion about women's capacities and rights. The lead story in the Telegraph the following day said:

Once again has woman demonstrated her superiority in the face of an incredulous and somewhat unsympathetic world... And now the last trench has been carried by Amazonian assault, and the whole citadel of learning lies open and defenceless before the victorious students of Newnham and Girton. There is no longer any field of learning in which the lady student does not excel.[1]

Career[edit]

Following Fawcett's great achievement in the Mathematical Tripos, she won a scholarship at Cambridge through which she conducted research in Fluid Dynamics. Her published papers include "Note on the Motion of Solids in a Liquid".[2]

She went on to be a College Lecturer in Mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge a position she held for 10 years.[3] In this capacity, her teaching abilities received considerable praise. One student wrote:

What I remember most vividly of Miss Fawcett's coaching was her concentration, speed, and infectious delight in what she was teaching. She was ruthless towards mistakes and carelessness... My deepest debt to her is a sense of the unity of all truth, from the smallest detail to the highest that we know[4]

Fawcett left Cambridge in 1902, when she was appointed as a lecturer to train mathematics teachers at the Normal School, Johannesburg, South Africa.[5] Here, she remained until 1905, setting up schools in South Africa. She then returned to England to take a position in the administration of education for London County Council. Here, in her work developing secondary schools, she attained a high rank on the London City Council.

Philippa Fawcett maintained strong links with Newnham College throughout her life. The Fawcett building (1938) was named in recognition of her contribution to Newnham, and that of her family. She died on 10 June 1948, two months after her 80th birthday, just one month after the Grace that allowed women to be awarded the Cambridge BA degree received royal assent, and fifty eight years after coming above the `Senior Wrangler'.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Series, Caroline. "And what became of the women?", Mathematical Spectrum, Vol. 30 (1997/8), 49-52
  2. ^ Quarterly Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, Vol. 26 (1893), 231-258
  3. ^ "Philippa Fawcett", Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College
  4. ^ Newnham College Roll Letter, February 1949, 46-54. Newnham College Archives.
  5. ^ South London Fawcett Group Biography
  6. ^ Stephen Siklos, official Newnham biography of Philippa Fawcett, 2004

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]