Grace Chisholm Young

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Not to be confused with Grace Kamaikui Young.
Grace Chisholm Young
Grace Chisholm Young.jpg
Born 1868
Died 1944
Nationality British
Fields Mathematics
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Doctoral advisor Felix Klein

Grace Chisholm Young (née Chisholm) was an English mathematician. She was educated at Girton College, Cambridge, England and continued her studies at Göttingen University in Germany, where in 1895 she became the first woman to receive a doctorate in any field in that country. Her early writings were published under the name of her husband, William Henry Young, and they collaborated on mathematical work throughout their lives. For her work on calculus (1914–16), she was awarded the Gamble Prize.[1]

Her son, Laurence Chisholm Young, and daughter Rosalind Tanner were also mathematicians, as is one of her granddaughters, Sylvia Wiegand (daughter of Laurence).

Early years[edit]

She was the youngest of three surviving children. Grace and her sister were taught at home by their mother and a governess which was the custom during that time. Her family encouraged her to become involved in social work, helping the poor in London. She had aspirations of studying medicine, but her family would not allow this. However, Chisholm wanted to continue her studies. She passed the senior examination for entrance into Cambridge University at the age of 17. Later in life Grace had a tutor by the name of William Young, whom she married the year after she received her Ph.D. at Göttingen. Grace and William spent the next 44 years together having six children together in a span of nine years.


Chisholm entered Girton in 1889, four years after she passed the senior entrance examination. At the end of their first year, when the Mays list came out, she was top of the Second class right below Isabel Maddison. In 1893, Grace passed her final examinations and scored the equivalent of a first-class degree. She also took (unofficially, on a challenge, with Isabel Maddison) the exam for the Final Honours School in mathematics at the University of Oxford on which she out-performed all the Oxford students. However, women were not awarded formal degrees at that time and Chisholm remained at Cambridge for an additional year to complete Part II of the Mathematical Tripos, which was unusual for women at this time. Chisholm was still interested in continuing her studies and since women were not yet admitted to graduate schools in England she went to the University of Göttingen in Germany to study with Felix Klein. This was one of the major mathematical centers in the world. The decision to admit her had to be approved by the Berlin Ministry of Culture. In 1895, at the age of 27, Grace became the first woman to attain a doctorate in any field in Germany. Again government approval had to be obtained to allow her to take the examination, which consisted of probing questions by several professors on sections such as geometry, differential equations, physics, astronomy, and the area of her dissertation, all in German. Along with her test she was required to take courses showing broader knowledge as well as prepare a thesis which was entitled "Algebraisch-gruppentheoretische Untersuchungen zur sphärischen Trigonometrie" (Algebraic Groups of Spherical Trigonometry.) [2]


After returning to England for a year in 1896, Grace travelled with her new husband to Gӧttingen, Geneva and Lausanne to continue her mathematical research. From about 1901, the Youngs began to publish papers together concerning the theory of functions of a real variable, which were heavily influenced by new ideas with which Grace had come into contact in Gӧttingen. They also wrote an elementary geometry book which was translated into 4 languages. Although most of their work was published jointly it is believed that Grace did a large amount of the actual writing, and she also produced some independent work which, according to expert opinion, was deeper and more important than her husband's. [3]

Personal life[edit]

Grace and William had six children together in a span of nine years; most of their children went on to become mathematicians. In addition to her career as a pioneering female in what was then a discipline with significant barriers to entry, Grace completed all the requirements for a medical degree except the internship. She also learned six languages and taught each of her children a musical instrument. With the approach of World War II, Grace left Switzerland in 1940 to take two of her grandchildren to England. Grace was to return immediately, but because of the fall of France, she could not. This left William alone, and he died two years later in 1942. Two years after that, Grace died of a heart attack. Of their six children, three continued on to study mathematics, one daughter became a physician, and one son pursued a career in finance and business. The eldest son was killed in World War I. One of Grace's fourteen grandchildren, Sylvia Wiegand, is a mathematician at the University of Nebraska and is a past president of the Association for Women in Mathematics.


In 1996 Sylvia Wiegand and her husband Roger established a fellowship for graduate student research at the University of Nebraska in honor of Grace Chisholm Young and William Henry Young, called the Grace Chisholm Young and William Henry Young Award.[4] Sylvia is one of Grace's fourteen grandchildren.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Riddle, Larry. "Biographies of Women Mathematicians: Grace Chisholm Young". Agnes Scott College. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "Grace Chisholm Young". 1944-03-29. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  3. ^ Caroline Series (1995). British women mathematicians 200 years of history. 
  4. ^ PO BOX 880130 (2010-11-18). "UNL | Arts & Sciences | Math | Department | Awards | Graduate Student Awards". Retrieved 2012-11-06. 

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