Florence Nightingale David

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Florence Nightingale David
Born (1909-08-23)23 August 1909
Ivington, Herefordshire, England
Died 23 July 1993(1993-07-23) (aged 83)
Fields Statistics

Florence Nightingale David, also known as F. N. David (23 August 1909 – 23 July 1993) was an English statistician, born in Ivington, Herefordshire, England. She was named after Florence Nightingale, who was a friend of her parents.


When she was five years old, her schooling was interrupted by World War I. Living in a "small country village, her first schooling consisted of private lessons with the local parson."[1] That parson had some ideas for the young Florence Nightingale, noting that she already knew some arithmetic, and started her on algebra. In terms of languages, since F. N. David already knew English, the parson started Latin and Greek. At the age of ten, she transitioned to formal schooling.


By the time college was an option, F. N. David desired to attend University College, London. At that time, University College had the reputation of being a "...hotbed of dissenters."[1] Her mother was against her attending University College, and in the end F. N. David attended Bedford College for Women in London. In a later interview, she said she did not like this college, but she did like the fact that she could attend the theatre every night. For three years all that was done was mathematics, and F. N. David did not know what she would do with mathematics when she graduated. She wanted to be an actuary but the actuarial firms only accepted men. Eventually she received a degree in Mathematics in 1931. Someone suggested that Karl Pearson at University College could help with the actuary dream F. N. David possessed. Eventually Pearson got David a scholarship to continue her studies as his research student. She attended University College in London for her doctorate in 1938.


Working for Karl Pearson, F. N. David computed solutions to complicated multiple integrals, and the distribution of the correlation coefficients. As a result, her first book was released in 1938 called Tables of the Correlation Coefficient. All the calculations were done on a hand-cranked mechanical calculator known as a Brunsviga. Although she admired him, and spent much time with him, F. N. David was terrified of Pearson. When Pearson retired, she wrote that he was a terrific lecturer. Karl Pearson's son Egon, and R. A. Fisher took over Karl's duties, and F. N. David stated that Fisher was a horrible lecturer, saying that if she even asked a question he would not answer it as she was a woman. So to ask her questions, she would sit next to a man and make him ask everything. After Karl Pearson died in 1934, she returned to the Biometrics laboratory to work with Jerzy Neyman where she submitted her last four published papers as her PhD thesis. During World War II, David worked for the Ministry of Home Security. In late 1939 when war had started but England had not yet been attacked, she created statistical models to predict the possible consequences of bombs exploding in high density populations such as the big cities of England and especially London. From these models, she determined estimates of harm to humans and damage to non-humans This included the possible numbers living and dead, the reactions to fires and damaged buildings as well as damages to communications,utilities such as phones, water, gas, electricity and sewers. As a result when the Germans bombed London in 1940 and 1941, vital services were kept going and her models were updated and modified with the evidence from the real harms and real damage.

After World War II she returned to University College in London and became a Professor in 1962. In 1968 she moved to California and became a Professor and the Chair of the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Riverside. By 1977 she had retired but moved to the University of California, Berkeley where she continued to teach and do research in Biostatistics.
David became head of the Statistics Department at the University of California, Riverside in 1970.


In conjunction with other numerous academic honours, in 1992 F. N. David won the first Elizabeth L. Scott Award "...for her efforts in opening the door to women in statistics; for contributions to the professions over many years; for contributions to education, science, and public service; for research contributions to combinatorics, statistical methods, applications and understanding history; and her spirit as a lecturer and as a role model."[2]


  • Combinatorics
Clear exposition of complicated methods of combinatorics.
  • Correlation coefficient
Computed solutions of complicated difficult multiple integrals, using the distribution of the correlation coefficient.[1]
  • Origins and history of probability and statistical ideas
Wrote a book on History of probability, using problems thought of by famous mathematicians and scientists like Cardano and Galileo. It was called "Games, Gods and Gambling: The Origins and History of Probability".



  1. ^ a b c Salsburg, David (2001). The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science In The Twentieth Century. 
  2. ^ "F. N. David Wins First Elizabeth L. Scott Award", AWM Newsletter, May–June 1993, p.5