Celebrating Women in Mathematics and Science

Erica Voolich, reviewer

Celebrating Women in Mathematics and Science , edited by Miriam P Cooney CSC,  National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1996, paper, 223pp. ISBN 0-87353-425-1.  $29.95. (800) 235-7566 or www.nctm.org.


Celebrating Women in Mathematics and Science  profiles the accomplishments of twenty-two women in chronological order beginning with Hypatia (370-315) and ending with Mary Gray (1939-). The book grew out of the efforts of a group of twenty mathematics and science teachers who met together for a yearlong study of issues surrounding mathematics, science and gender. Each wrote at least one biography.

Some of the mathematicians, such as Hypatia and Mary Somerville, are profiled in other books easily available to classroom teachers. Others are not generally found in materials at this reading, for example Robinson, Gray and Rudin. Some mathematicians who you might expect to see, such as Sonya Kovalevskaya, are left out; but it is not meant to be a comprehensive volume. There is one woman of color, Evelyn Granville. 

Each woman was a pioneer in her lifetime, making a difference in the world by following her own dreams. Each individual’s story is told in the context of her times, pointing out the specific challenges she faced, how she struggled with the issues of her day and how she overcame the obstacles. The portrayals are humanizing; each subject makes choices, both good and bad, in their lives. The stories relate who was influential and supportive to each woman. There is an overall theme of determination to learn and do, despite society’s--and sometimes family’s-- expectations and challenges that differed from their own.

The introduction says this book is for middle school; the NCTM catalog says “all ages”. I would say middle school and up. There are descriptions of the mathematics and science done by the women, but one does not need a technical background to understand the content because its purpose is to portray the people and not the specifics of their work.

All of the illustrations are original, using a scratchboard technique; instead of the photographs one frequently sees of these women.    Since it came out, I have used this book as one of the resources on mathematicians in my classroom. I recommend it as another resource for the teacher to have available for students’ use.

Erica Dakin Voolich, Mathematics Teacher, Solomon Schechter Day School, Newton, MA; President, Somerville Mathematics Fund, Somerville, MA