Philippa Fawcett

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Philippa Fawcett
Philippa Garrett Fawcett (1868-1948)
Born(1868-04-04)4 April 1868
Died10 June 1948(1948-06-10) (aged 80)
Alma materNewnham College, Cambridge & Bedford College, London
Known forFirst woman ranked "above Senior Wrangler"
Scientific career
InstitutionsLondon County Council
Academic advisorsErnest William Hobson

Philippa Garrett Fawcett (4 April 1868 – 10 June 1948) was a British mathematician and educationalist.


Philippa Garrett Fawcett was the daughter of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett and 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. When her father died, she and her mother went to live with Millicent's sister Agnes Garrett, who had set up an interior design business on Gower Street, Bloomsbury.[1]


Philippa Fawcett was educated at Bedford College, London[2] (now Royal Holloway) and Newnham College, Cambridge which had been co-founded by her mother. In 1890 she became the first woman to obtain the top score in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams. The results were highly publicised, with the top scorers receiving great acclaim. Her score was 13 per cent higher than the second highest, but she did not receive the title of senior wrangler, as only men were then ranked and women were listed separately. Women had been allowed to take the Tripos since 1880, 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". No woman was officially awarded the first position until Ruth Hendry in 1992.

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:


Following Fawcett's achievement in the Tripos, she won the Marion Kennedy scholarship at Cambridge[4] through which she conducted research in fluid dynamics. Her published papers include "Note on the Motion of Solids in a Liquid".[5] She was appointed a college lecturer in Mathematics at Newnham College, a position she held for 10 years.[6] In this capacity, her teaching abilities received considerable praise. One student wrote:

Fawcett left Cambridge in 1902, when she was appointed as a lecturer to train mathematics teachers at the Normal School in Johannesburg, South Africa,[8] now part of the University of Pretoria. She remained there, setting up schools in South Africa, until 1905, when she returned to Britain to take a position in the administration of education for London County Council. At the LCC, in her work developing secondary schools, she attained a high rank. Denied a Cambridge degree by her sex, she was one of the steamboat ladies who travelled to Ireland between 1904 and 1907 to receive an ad eundem University of Dublin degree at Trinity College.[9]

Philippa Fawcett maintained strong links with Newnham College throughout her life. The Fawcett building (1938) was named in recognition of her contribution to the college, and that of her family. She died on 10 June 1948, two months after her 80th birthday, a month after the Grace that allowed women to be awarded the Cambridge BA degree received royal assent.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (PDF) Retrieved 12 July 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Ashton, Rosemary (2012-11-13). Victorian Bloomsbury by Rosemary Ashton. ISBN 9780300154474. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  3. ^ Series, Caroline. "And what became of the women?", Mathematical Spectrum, Vol. 30 (1997/8), 49-52
  4. ^ Marion Kennedy, Newnham College, Retrieved 22 June 2017
  5. ^ Fawcett, Philippa (1893). "Note on the Motion of Solids in a Liquid". Quarterly Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics. 26: 231–258. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  6. ^ "Philippa Fawcett", Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College
  7. ^ Newnham College Roll Letter, February 1949, 46-54. Newnham College Archives.
  8. ^ South London Fawcett Group Biography
  9. ^ Parkes, Susan M. "Steamboat ladies (act. 1904–1907)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ Stephen Siklos, official Newnham biography of Philippa Fawcett, 2004

Further reading[edit]

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