New Book Explores, Explodes Stereotypes About Women In Mathematics

September 24, 1997

True or false: women and mathematics don1t mix. Mathematicians do their best work in their youth. Only white males do math. Mathematics is a realm of pure science and complete objectivity.

According to Claudia Henrion, author of WOMEN IN MATHEMATICS: The Addition of Difference, to be published by Indiana University Press on October 3, these statements are all false. Yet they have their effect. In the United States, 46% of the bachelor1s degrees in mathematics go to women. But women earn only about 24% of the math Ph.D.1s and make up less than 6% of the full-time faculty at doctoral-granting American institutions, where fewer than 3% of them have earned tenure.

Henrion probes the culture of mathematics and describes the dominant myths about who a mathematician is supposed to be and what mathematics is all about. She provides profiles of eleven diverse and prominent contemporary women in mathematics as convincing counterpoint to these myths. Henrion challenges underlying and often invisible assumptions of the discipline that can inadvertently discourage women from pursuing mathematics or can keep them on the margins even once they have entered the castle walls.

The women interviewed are not meant to be a list of the best and the brightest women mathematicians in the United States, says Henrion. Though certainly some of the top women mathematicians are included, the subjects were chosen to capture the diverse range of women who are prominent in mathematics. They represent a range of mathematical fields, ages, ethnic and racial backgrounds, geographical locations, and personal and professional situations. "There are many other engaging and successful women mathematicians whose stories are well worth hearing," Henrion asserts. "This book is simply one step toward addressing women1s invisibility so that there can be no doubt that women can, and do, do mathematics."

Among those profiled are:

Joan Birman, professor of mathematics at Barnard College and Columbia University. Married and the mother of three children, she returned to school and earned her Ph.D. at the age of 41. She has published more than 50 works in her research area of topology and knot theory, and lectures all over the world. Henrion points out that it is remarkable in mathematics to get an advanced degree so late and then to go on to become such a productive and successful mathematician. "Joan Birman exemplifies one way to integrate family with a research career; her life suggests some of the advantages and disadvantages of such a path. Like many in this book, she challenges the myth that 'mathematics is a young man's game.'"

Fan Chung is the most prolific researcher among Henrion1s subjects, with more than 170 articles on graph theory and discrete mathematics to her credit. She is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Graph Theory, formerly a division manager at Bell Communications Research, and now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Fan was fortunate to have a community of women peers when she studied mathematics at Taiwan University. Most of these women, including Fan, came to the U.S. for graduate work, remained, and went on to become first-rate researchers. She discusses the importance of such a community for her mathematical development.

Fern Hunt knew early on that she was interested in mathematics, but did not consider it a possibility for herself as a black woman. A high school science teacher encouraged her both practically, by telling her about programs and schools she should consider, and emotionally, by nurturing her confidence in herself as a talented and gifted young black woman. Formerly a professor of mathematics at Howard University, Fern is now a researcher at the National Institute for Standards in Technology.

Many mathematicians describe Karen Uhlenbeck as the best living woman research mathematician in the United States. A MacArthur Award winner and member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she has won numerous fellowships and has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. A former vice-president of the American Mathematical Society, she now holds the Sid Richardson Foundation Regents1 Chair at the University of Texas. Despite these successes, Karen still thinks of herself in some ways as an outsider. Her story illustrates that talent alone does not eliminate the problems women encounter in the field of higher mathematics.

About the Author
CLAUDIA HENRION received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University. She completed a Ph.D. at Dartmouth College in mathematical logic and went on to teach mathematics at Middlebury College. She is currently visiting professor at Dartmouth College, where she teaches courses in mathematics, education, and women1s studies.

Author available for interview
(802) 785-2952; email: Claudia.A.Henrion@Dartmouth.EDU

Book Information:
WOMEN IN MATHEMATICS: The Addition of Difference
by Claudia Henrion
328 pages, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 , 2 figs., notes, index
Cloth; ISBN: 0-253-33279-6; Price: $39.95
Paper; ISBN 0-253-21119-0; Price: $16.95
To be published October 3, 1997 by Indiana University Press
Available at bookstores or by calling 1-800-842-6796
Release date: September 24, 1997

Indiana University Press

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