Philippa Garrett Fawcett 4 April — 10 June was an English mathematician and educationalist.
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She was the first woman to obtain the top score in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams. 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.
In 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 , after Charlotte Angas Scott was unofficially ranked as eighth wrangler.
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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 An anonymous poem written in paying tribute to Fawcett's great achievement climaxes with the following two stanzas, mentioning the other respected mathematicians Arthur Cayley and George Salmon : .
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  through which she conducted research in fluid dynamics.
Her published papers include "Note on the Motion of Solids in a Liquid". One student wrote:. Fawcett left Cambridge in , when she was appointed as a lecturer to train mathematics teachers at the Normal School in Johannesburg , South Africa,  now part of the University of Pretoria. Millicent Fawcett, Philippa's mother, was not only a leading suffragist, but also cousin to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the U.
She declined the chance to get away from her college for the last few days before the papers began, on the ground that it might disturb her routine. When asked if she wished the ordeal were over, she answered that in no circumstances would she want to wish away three weeks of her life. By the end of May , expectations were high at Newnham that Fawcett had done better than any other candidate the college had ever entered in the math exams.
Browne, the secretary of the Cambridge exam board, was also concerned—because he feared that the women entered in the math exams might be so far below par that they would disgrace themselves.
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By morning, word that something extraordinary was about to occur had electrified Cambridge. Marion reported what happened next in a letter:. It was a most exciting scene in the Senate… Christina and I got seats in the gallery and grandpapa remained below. The gallery was crowded with girls and a few men, and the floor of the building was thronged with undergraduates as tightly packed as they could be.
The lists were read out from the gallery and we heard splendidly. He signalled with his hand for the men to keep quiet, but had to wait some time. Philippa Fawcett was not only the first woman to place above the Senior Wrangler; she was also the last. Cambridge dropped the ancient distinction in because, as mathematics became more specialized, it had become increasingly difficult to rank candidates with skills in different branches of the subject in purely numerical order.
David Hilbert: "Gentlemen, we are not running a bathing establishment. It took much longer for academics to abandon their prejudice against allowing women to take their degrees alongside men. In Britain, Oxford yielded in ; in the United States, Yale did not desegregate until , and Harvard not until As for Cambridge, women were finally allowed to take degrees alongside men in London: Springer Verlag, ; D.
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Woman and Health in America: Historical Readings. Sexual Science: the Victorian Construction of Womanhood. Philippa Fawcett and the Mathematical Tripos.
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Cambridge: Newnham College, ; W. A History of Mathematics at Cambridge. Teaching and Learning in Nineteenth Century Cambridge. Manchester: MUP, Subscribe or Give a Gift. Sign up. SmartNews History. History Archaeology. World History.
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