Book discusses women as mathematicians

October 22, 2000

BLACKSBURG, VA, October 23, 2000--Partly due to technological advances during World War II and an increase in government monies devoted to education in the sciences, mathematical research abounded in the years 1940-1959; but the proportion of women earning Ph.D.s in mathematics fell to a record low over those two decades.

Margaret A. M. Murray, associate professor of mathematics at Virginia Tech, interviewed 36 of the nearly 200 women who did earn Ph.D's during 1940-1959 and wrote the book, Women Becoming Mathematicians: Creating a Professional Identity in Post-World War II America. Her purpose was to determine the complex interplay between the personal and professional lives of the women who embarked on mathematical careers during this period, with a view to understanding how changes in American society during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s affected their career development and identities as mathematicians.

From interviews with female mathematicians from that period, plus research into historical and sociological documents, Murray looked at how women in mathematics develop their identity from childhood through adulthood and into retirement. These women, having few examples to follow, improvised and "followed diverse paths in their struggle to construct a professional identity in postwar America," Murray says.

In the book, which Howard Georgi of Harvard calls "a page-turner" that he couldn't stop reading, Murray looks at the ways women in mathematical careers come to 'know themselves' as mathematicians.

"...This is without a doubt the best book yet written on American women mathematicians," wrote Ann Hibner Koblitz of the Women's Studies Program at Arizona State University.

Research for the book, Women Becoming Mathematicians: Creating a Professional Identity in Post-World War II, America was supported by nearly $100,000 in grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Center for Programs in the Humanities at Virginia Tech. The book was published by MIT Press.

Virginia Tech is hosting 250 young women for an intergenerational, multimedia, mathematical celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 15:
PR CONTACT: Sally Harris

Author: Margaret Murray

Virginia Tech

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