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Mathematical Treasure: Mary Serjant's Copybook

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Mary Serjant, born in 1673 in England, was apparently a pupil (scholle) of a Mrs. Elizabeth Bean who instructed her in the art of writing, calligraphy, and arithmetic.  In the pages of her 1688 copybook, Mary showed what she had learned through her demonstration of penmanship and her embellished arithmetic calculations.

On the page shown above Mary demonstrated the principles of “Broken Addition.”


On the page above, we have an example of the “Golden Rule” or “Rule of Three” embellished by the drawing of a swan.  For many years, this simple proportion involving three knowns and one unknown was considered a powerful algebraic tool.

For images from another 17th-century copybook, see the Convergence page, "Matthew Wood's Copybook."

For examples of 18th-century British copybooks, see the Convergence article, “Learning Geometry in Georgian England,” by Benjamin Wardhaugh.

The two images above are provided courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. You may use them in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Beinecke Library. The Mathematical Association of America is pleased to cooperate with the Beinecke Library and Yale University to make these images available to a larger audience.

Index of Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Mary Serjant's Copybook," Convergence (August 2013), DOI:10.4169/loci003932