Friday, December 7, 2007

Mystery Math Idol #2 Revealed - 'There's Something About Mary'...

Our winners:

Mary Everest Boole was a remarkable woman. Her uncle, Colonel Sir George Everest, to whom she was very close, was the Surveyor General of India. He was largely responsible for completion of the trigonometric survey of India along the meridan arc from the south of India extending north to Nepal. The completion of the Indian survey allowed the subsequent survey of Mt. Everest (at the time un-named) and calculation of its summit height. It was later renamed in honor of George Everest.

Through her uncle, Mary met George Boole, an already famous mathematician. Mary enjoyed her time with Boole both socially and intellectually and they soon married. Even though Mary was 17 years younger than George, they were still very close companions and had a very successful marriage. During the next nine years, Mary and George had five daughters. Yet, this happiness would not last for long. Tragically, George caught pneumonia and died leaving Mary alone with her youngest child only six months old.

Mary Everest Boole was a miraculous woman who, widowed for fifty years, raised her five daughters and made countless contributions towards the mathematical education of many girls and boys. Mary considered herself a mathematical psychologist. Her goal was to try " understand how people, and especially children, learned mathematics and science, using the reasoning parts of their minds, their physical bodies, and their unconscious processes."

Mary was recognized in England as being an outstanding teacher. One of Mary's pupils was to write later, "I thought we were being amused not taught. But after I left I found you [Mary] had given us a power. We can think for ourselves, and find out what we want to know." Many of Mary Boole's contributions can be seen in the modern classroom today.

tc found this fascinating anecdote:
Niece of a famous George AND wife of a famous George! (Note the
Boolean operator)! A maven of mathematical pedagogy! - A particularly
apt choice for this blog!

I found the following quote particularly interesting:
"I have had homicidal impulse at the touch of other stimuli. When I
was quite young, I used to speculate on the problem why I did not try
to kill someone who worried me. It was not love of my parents that
hindered me; in those moods I was incapable of fear. It was not regard
for God; I considered that God made me as I was and could not
reasonably be angry with anything I did. It was -- I always came back
to the same conclusion -- it was that I thought that if I killed
anyone the police or the hangman or someone would stop my working for
algebra. Besides I felt that all stormy passions in themselves
interfered between me and algebra. Hate and revengefulness,as well as
love and fear, vanished, like burned paper, when they threatened to
interfere between me and algebra (34)."

- from The Forging of Passion into Power (London: C.W. Daniel Company,
1910), found online at

mathmom found the perfect web site to search (sorry, I'm not sharing that at this time!) and commented:
The only woman I could think of before searching was Ada Lovelace and I didn't think the photo was her, though I'm pretty bad with faces. If I'd found a different photo of Boole, I might not have been sure it was the same woman.

I'll leave Mary's picture up there for a couple of weeks. I will probably do this contest biweekly from now on due to 'overwhelming' response!

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