The “Pioneering Women in Mathematics in Ireland” lecture at WIT

Celebrating Women in Irish Mathematics

Celebrating Women in Irish Mathematics

A Lecturer from Atlanta Georgia, spoke to WIT staff and students about the notable women in maths from the Victorian era up to modern day Ireland

The "Pioneering Women in Mathematics in Ireland" lecture given at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) delivered by Dublin native Prof Colm Mulcahy of Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia focused on gathering and sharing relevant information regarding women in maths.

The speaker

Prof Mulcahy, a graduate of UCD is the creator and curator of the Annals of Irish Mathematics and Mathematicians (AIMM) and the talk highlighted dozens of women many of whom have been forgotten by history.

The lecture covered the various stages of history where women, particularly in the Victorian era had very limited access to third level education in the STEM industry. Several ended up in astronomy, some more in teaching, and a handful have made it to Wikipedia and the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive but in many cases their stories are beyond our reach, seemingly undocumented or forgotten.  Even women who graduated in the first half of the 20th century “had their work cut out for them”; for instance, often being obliged to resign from employment if they married or had children, and many of those mathematicians are largely invisible to us today.


Thanks to the internet and genealogical resources now available, some of these overlooked stories are being unearthed.

Notable early examples are Mary and Alice Boole, wife and daughter of University College Cork’s George Boole, Sophie Bryant the first woman to have a paper published in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, in 1884, and Marjorie Long who translated a key book on the mathematics of relativity from Italian in the 1920s.  Late 20th century successes include Nóra Ní Chuív, a granddaughter of Eamon de Valera, who had a long career in Canada and statistician Sally Mclean who has supervised almost 40 PhD students at the University of Ulster.

Ever changing society 

Today we live in a very different world, where a wide diversity of careers is open to women in Ireland with advanced maths training, from teaching and academia, to industry and beyond. Leadership positions are also increasingly within reach.  Algebraist Rachel Quinlan is the new head of the school of maths, stats & applied maths at NUIG and statistician Catherine Comiskey is head of the school of nursing & midwifery at TCD.

Additionally, women are using maths training as the foundation for some surprising careers. Starting with a PhD in fluid dynamics, Sandra Collins went on to work for Ericsson, SFI and the RIA, and is now Director of the National Library.

Yet, as the speaker reminded his audience, “We have a small population but half of it is female. There is much work to be done.”

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