Women in Mathematics and Math Circles

By August 10, 2016Equity, Program

Mathematics is a human activity. As such, it crosses all boundaries of identity. As an organization that is determined to provide access to engaging and novel mathematics to all 5th to 12th graders across Chicago, it’s vital that we actively promote this idea.

To date, the five programming levels we’ve taught have been named after well known mathematicians from history: Archimedes, Brahmagupta, Cantor, DesCartes, and Euler. This has had the advantage of simple alphabetical order; it has had the drawback that all of these mathematicians are men.

This fall we will rename two levels: Haynes and Kovalevsky (and we will drop the names Archimedes and DesCartes). In 1943 Euphemia Lofton Haynes was the first black woman in America to earn a PhD in mathematics at Catholic University (prior to her PhD she was a master’s student at the University of Chicago). In 1874 Sonia Kovalevsky was the first woman in history to earn a PhD.

Women have played a significant part in the development of the Math Circles of Chicago. Two current PhD students at UIC, Ellie Dannenberg and Janet Page, have taught and planned more MC^2 sessions than anyone else in our six year history (and their plans are used by teachers at four of our sites). Ann Turner, math circle parent, founded our site at Audubon (now Lane Tech), which she managed voluntarily until I was hired a year ago.

I hope that changing these names is a step towards changing the identity of math enrichment. We want our students to reflect our community and the diversity that makes up the city of Chicago, and in that spirit we wanted to honor a diverse group of math pioneers through these names!