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All Because Of A Corrosive Culture

Well, their love for mathematics did not allow them to live a life full of events, and of peace and tranquility… otherwise, who would go forth to write the world’s first Computer Programme, by mortgaging her jewellery? It is commonly known that English polymath Charles Babbage (December 26, 1791 – October 18, 1871) is the Father of Computer, as he originated the concept of a digital programmable computer. However, it was Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852) who had helped Babbage by working on his proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Ada was not only an English Mathematician and Writer, but also the estranged daughter of the poet Lord Byron (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824). She was the only child of Lord Byron and mathematician Lady Byron. All of the poet’s other children were born out of wedlock to other women. Byron separated from his wife a month after Ada was born and left England forever. Four months later, he commemorated the parting in a poem that begins: “Is thy face like thy mother’s my fair child! ADA! sole daughter of my house and heart?

Like her father, History has also forgotten Ada, else she would have been considered as the Mother of Computer after 206 years of her birth! She spent a lot of time making programmes for analytical engines. For Ada, a housewife, solving mathematical problems was just a passion! Very few children are known to have been in love with numbers, but Ada was different from her childhood. She, often, used to forget to take her son off the school bus, as she was so engrossed in maths.

Ada Lovelace

German-born mathematician Johanna Neumann (February 12, 1914 – November 14, 1971), too, was like Ada. As a result of her father Hermann von Caemmerer‘s death in the very first day of the First World War, Hanna started coaching school children at the age of 13. Although her thesis on ‘Sub-group Structure of Free Products of Groups with an Amalgamated Subgroup’ earned her Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in 1969, she had to struggle a lot. She lost her job because of the wave of anti-Semitism, while her political beliefs were also tested during the viva voce for her Doctoral Degree. As she was a Jew by birth, Hanna faced obstacles in tying a nuptial knot with her beloved person. However, she overcame all the obstacles, in course of time.

Johanna Neumann

Dorothy Lewis Bernstein (April 11, 1914 – February 5, 1988), the American mathematician known for her work in applied mathematics, statistics, computer programming, and her research on the Laplace transform, faced a lot of trouble to establish herself, as well! Dorothy, the first woman to be elected President of the Mathematics Association of America, had to struggle against poverty at a young age. The viva voce of her Doctoral examinations were taken for a much longer period of time, just because she was a woman. At Brown University, she was not allowed to teach male students, and when she approached noted Mathematician Dr Roland George Dwight Richardson (1878-1949), he reportedly told Dorothy: “You won’t get a job in western part of Mississippi, because you’re a woman, and you won’t get a job in the southern part of Ohio, because you’re a Jew.

Dorothy Lewis Bernstein

Both Hanna and Dorothy had to struggle a lot to secure the places among eminent mathematicians. Their Birth Centenaries were not marked anywhere in the world. Incidentally, they did not share the fate of Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician Hypatia (350/370 AD – March 415 AD), the daughter of Mathematician Theon of Alexandria (335 AD – 405 AD). Hypatia was stripped naked and murdered by an angry mob, who killed her with an ostraka, which can either be translated as “roof tiles” or “oyster shells“. They also cut out her eyeballs, tore her body into pieces and dragged her limbs through the town to a place, called Cinarion, where they set them on fire. It may be noted that Laura Maria Caterina Bassi Veratti (October 29, 1711 – February 20, 1778), an Italian Physicist and the world’s first Science Professor, took 44 years to get a teaching job.

Laura Maria Caterina Bassi Veratti

Attempts have been made to remove the name of Indian mathematician Līlāvatī from history. Confusion has also been created as to whether she was the widow or daughter of famous mathematician Bhāskara II. A section of people even considers her as an imaginary character! However, Līlāvatī invented a number of methods of computing numbers, such as multiplications, squares, and progressions, with examples using kings and elephants, objects which a common man could understand in 12th Century India.

Here is an excerpt from Līlāvatī’s work (appears as an additional problem attached to stanza 54, Chapter 3. Translated by T N Colebrook): “Whilst making love a necklace broke./ A row of pearls mislaid./ One sixth fell to the floor./ One fifth upon the bed./ The young woman saved one third of them./ One tenth were caught by her lover./ If six pearls remained upon the string/ How many pearls were there altogether?” Bhaskaracharya’s conclusion to Līlāvatī states: “Joy and happiness is indeed ever increasing in this world for those who have Līlāvatī clasped to their throats, decorated as the members are with neat reduction of fractions, multiplication and involution, pure and perfect as are the solutions, and tasteful as is the speech which is exemplified.

A problem from the Lilavati by Bhaskaracharya. Written in the 12th Century, this appeared on page 18 of The Mathematical Mystery Tour by UNESCO in 1989

In 2008, the Indian Academy of Sciences published a book, containing a hundred biographical essays on women scientists of India. The title of the book, co-edited by Rohini Godbole and Ram Ramaswamy, is ‘Lilavati’s Daughters‘. This is called sweet revenge, although it took only 858 years (from 1150 AD to 2008 AD)!

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