Hours deceased

By Murray Bourne, 02 Feb 2007

There is an incoming link to squareCircleZ from the blog Horas Mortas by Maria in Lisbon, Portugal. The Babelfish translation of the blog title is "Hours Deceased". Hmm - there is a lot to think about in that title.

Maria has a piece about Sophie Germain (in Portuguese), who was a late 18th / early 19th century mathematician.

The translation goes (I have tidied it up a bit):

Lagrange presented her works [to the committee] under the pseudonym of M. LeBlanc. She made an impression and he wanted to meet with the student. He was amused when he saw that the author of the work was a woman, and became her mentor. With a man to present it, Sophie entered then in the circle of mathematicians and scientists.

In 1804 she started to correspond with the Gauss mathematician who was moved when discovering who the correspondent was.

Sophie Germain was a revolutionary who fought against the preconceptions and the absence of formal education obtaining to become a celebrated mathematical one.

It appears that the post is based on this article from Biographies of Women Mathematicians (in English). This quote says a lot about 19th century attitudes to women and learning:

Her parents felt that her interest [in mathematics] was inappropriate for a female.

With little formal education and lots of discouragement, she did well. It is a pity that there is still societal pressures working against success in mathematics − for boys and girls.

See the 6 Comments below.

6 Comments on “Hours deceased”

  1. maria says:

    Thank you for your post. My post is based as you say on this article and others that confirm it.
    Horas mortas is the hours we have nothing to do unless think . It is the title of a poem writen by a portuguese poetess. Sorry for my english.

  2. Murray says:

    Thanks for the information, Maria. Your English is great!

    How is life for women mathematicians in Portugal? I was surprised when I first came to Singapore that (at least among teachers of mathematics) women mathematicians are confident and are seen in a positive way by the society.

    This was not the case in Australia, where there were very few female mathematicians and there was a lot more discouragement than enthusiasm for women to take on such a role.

  3. Vinod says:

    Women seem always to have had a hard time as mathematicians.

    When Emmy Noether applied for a position at Göttingen University, the faculty was afraid that this was the end of things as they knew it.

    David Hilbert's response to the outcry: "I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission. After all, we are a university and not a bathing establishment."

  4. Murray says:

    Yes, Vinod. And it is not only mathematicians. It has been tough for women to get into university, even. From Wikipedia's article on Newnham College, Cambridge:

    [In 1872] women were allowed into lectures, albeit at the discretion of the lecturer. By 1881, women were allowed to sit university examinations, and in 1921 were awarded "titles" as a result, although they would have to wait until 1947 before they were awarded degrees, and 1958 before they achieved equal rights to their male counterparts.

  5. Murray says:

    In Canada.com's Gazette, there was a recent article, Women learn better, faster. They talk about how women are beginning to dominate universities in Canada. It is the same trend in the US and Australia. Carmen Au, a 25-year old student says:

    "When I was about 10, I remember, a family acquaintance asked what my favourite subject was and I said 'math.' He said girls shouldn't be interested in math, that English was more like it. I told my parents, who told me to ignore it."

    Seems to me that encouraging women to learn has powerful outcomes.

    But wait, there's more! (Why is it that this topic keeps landing on my radar...?)

    Apparently Bush is going to spend $136 billion to "encourage innovation and strengthen the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global economy." The article Fixing Engineering's Gender Gap argues that some of those greenbacks should go into encouraging women into engineering.

    "...fewer than 20 percent of engineering graduates are women, according to the National Science Foundation."

    The key issues raised by women in focus groups included:

    # Lack of role models.
    # Lack of female mentors.
    # Discrimination.
    # Balancing work and family.
    # Perception and self-promotion

    Sounds familiar.

  6. maria says:

    Today is dificult to a young person believe or realize what were the difficulties a woman suffer to enter in a man worl: it looks like something of the past. It is good see the Math and science history. In Portugal forty years ago the girls who studied in university were few. They studied to be a teatcher, they studied literature, history ,languages and the boys would be engineer or another scientific career . Now a days is quite different: the most part of the students in scientific courses are woman.Tere is no descrimination. But they must go to another country( boys and girls)because here they dont have opportunities to a career in investigation.

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