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Complexities: Women in Mathematics

Erica Voolich, reviewer

Complexities: Women in Mathematics, Bettye Anne Case and Anne M. Leggett, editors, 2005, 456pp, illustrations, tables, $35, cloth, ISBN 0-691-11462-5, Princeton University Press;

As a middle school mathematics teacher, I was excited to hear that a new book on women in mathematics had been published. Since I require all of my students to research and role-play a mathematician of their own gender, I am always on the lookout for good resources. I immediately ordered a copy to use in my classroom. Upon reading Complexities, I realized that besides being a valuable resource for seventh graders, this collection of articles about historical and contemporary female mathematicians has value for a much broader audience.

Building upon the archives of the Newsletter from the Association for Women in Mathematics(AWM), the editors have produced a fascinating and informative overview  of the position of women in mathematics. The work is divided into five sections. Section one, ”Inspiration”, is divided into two parts: the first discusses well-known twentieth century mathematicians, chosen because they serve as an inspiration for the current generation of female mathematicians; the second considers women from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. All of these mathematicians had to overcome great challenges to pursue their careers. The second section, ”Joining Together”, examines the founding of AWM. New difficulties encountered by women in mathematics is discussed in the third section, “ Choices and Challenges”. The fourth section, "Celebration," includes plenary talks and papers from the Olga Taussky-Todd Celebration of Careers for Women in Mathematics. Finally, “Into a New Century”, the last section, looks at the female mathematician of today.

The book is exactly what I need in school. The result of reminiscences from a conference in honor of Olga Taussky-Todd's work in mathematics, it contains numerous biographies and autobiographies of women in mathematics--far more than any other resource I own. It goes beyond the usual historical women to include many contemporary women whose careers in academia, business and industry took interesting turns. Many of these articles include information I do not have in any other source. For example, I discovered that Evelyn Boyd Granville and Marjorie Lee Browne, who earned their PhDs in mathematics in 1949, were not the first African-American women to do so (as I had previously assumed). Actually, Euphemia Lofton Haynes, who received her doctorate in 1943 from Catholic University, was the first to earn that distinction. Also this book contains a wonderful collection of photographs of female mathematicians from the AWM archives.

Clearly, I would recommend this book highly to anyone who is at all interested in the struggle and development of female mathematicians.

Erica Dakin Voolich, Mathematics Teacher, Solomon Schecter Day School, Newton, MA
President, The Somerville Mathematics Fund

See also the MAA Review by Lisa DeKeukelaere.

Erica Voolich, reviewer, "Complexities: Women in Mathematics," Convergence (July 2007)