Cover image for Women becoming mathematicians : creating a professional identity in post-World War II America
Women becoming mathematicians : creating a professional identity in post-World War II America
Murray, Margaret Anne Marie.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 277 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QA27.5 .M88 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Women mathematicians of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and how they built professional identities in the face of social and institutional obstacles.

Women Becoming Mathematicians looks at the lives and careers of thirty-six of the approximately two hundred women who earned Ph.D.s in mathematics from American institutions from 1940 to 1959. During this period, American mathematical research enjoyed an unprecedented expansion, fueled by the technological successes of World War II and the postwar boom in federal funding for education in the basic sciences. Yet women's share of doctorates earned in mathematics in the United States reached an all-time low. This book explores the complex interplay between the personal and professional lives of those women who embarked on mathematical careers during this period, with a view to understanding how changes in American society during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s affected their career development and identities as mathematicians. The book is based on extensive interviews with thirty-six women mathematicians of the postwar generation, as well as primary and secondary historical and sociological research. Taking a life-course approach, the book examines the development of mathematical identity across the life span, from childhood through adulthood and into retirement. It focuses on the process by which women who are actively involved in the mathematical community come to "know themselves" as mathematicians. The women's stories are instructive precisely because they do not conform to a set pattern; compelled to improvise, the women mathematicians of the 1940s and 1950s followed diverse paths in their struggle to construct a professional identity in postwar America.

Author Notes

Margaret A. M. Murray, formerly Professor of Mathematics at Virginia Tech, is a Visiting Professor of Mathematics and English at the University of Iowa.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

With a general focus on women mathematicians of the post-WW II generation, Murray (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ.) reveals the "life-course" of 36 women mathematicians--their childhoods, their educations during the 1940s-50s, and their full careers as teachers, researchers, and applied mathematicians. Throughout, the author skillfully establishes the context of a rapidly expanding research environment for mathematicians, especially for males. Key influences that affected these 39 women as they became mathematicians were social acceptance by colleagues, societal expectations of males and females, federal and academic support structures, and myths specific to mathematics itself. Though few of these women were well known as mathematicians prior to this writing, all of them will soon become famous as both individuals and mathematicians. The text is scholarly, yet uses oral history interviews to construct fascinating accounts of each of these women--their goals, their frustrations, and their love for mathematics. Anyone embarking on a career in mathematics (male or female) should have access to this book, as it clearly helps the reader use the past to help interpret and understand potential futures. Rich set of chapter notes; extensive references. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. J. Johnson; Western Washington University