Hypatia of Alexandria

Women in Science

Hypatia (ca. 355-415)
My books are lost,
at least for now.
Until the seventeenth century,
no one knew the work of Sappho.
Papyrus fragments
take time to rise up.
Your centuries flicker past
while my bones turn to dust.
Believe it or not, I was funny.
I goofed on men who bugged me.
Some year soon you’ll find my math. 
Roger Arliner Young (1899-1964)
While Just watched out for her, all was well.
When Just abandoned her, all went to hell.
She left science to take on her mother’s care,
to watch her mother’s dementia grow,
and worry she was on the same path.
There’s probably more to this story
than we will ever know, but after all,
she studied ocean eggs. She saw what
the young inherit from the elder.
This is a story of how much a person can take.
Young worked alongside Silence,
under Just. There’s no Truth in the tale,
but Silence and Just were real.
Note: Roger Arliner Young was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate degree in zoology. Caroline Silence was a classmate of Young’s at Howard University; Ernest Everett Just was her teacher and mentor. For more information, see Young’s entry in Wini Warren’s Black Women Scientists in the United States (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1999).

Mina Rees (1902-1997)
The math in my family
was black and white. Yes or no. 1 or 0.
My father’s finances approached zero –
when it came to money, ask and you’d get.
Grades were As and framed.
At nine, I understood my age’s rule.
It’s a divisibility test. At twenty-three
I learned another: no women PhDs
in math at Columbia. Off I went
to Chicago, and then to the top
of my field. The opposite of nothing.
Georgia Caldwell Smith (1909-1961)
Georgia Caldwell Smith’s math dissertation was
“Some Results of the Anticenter of a Group.”
She completed it during her last year on earth.
What is an anticenter, exactly?
The opposite of a middle?
The beginning and/or the end, the not-middle?
The circumference of the circle around a central point?
The furthest you can get from the core of a thing,
and still be the thing?
A fifty-year-old Black woman in a PhD program
in mathematics in 1960 might feel herself to be
at the anticenter, the periphery. And might feel
that from there, she had the most complete view.
Dorothy Bernstein (1914-1988)
Mathematician Dorothy Bernstein
taught at Brown in 1936.
But let’s get deeper into the math of it.
She taught three female students
while her counterpart, a man,
taught forty-five male students.
This doesn’t seem to add up.
But the chair of her department felt
that male students would not tolerate
a female teacher.
And so, they never had a chance.
Jewel Isadora Plummer Cobb (1924-2017)

Let me tell you something about filters and filtrates.
“The pores of the filters passed through on the
way to science careers are smaller for
women than they are for men,”
I wrote in 1979. Picture the
sieves, one piled upon
another. Picture us
splitting ourselves
into fragments,
pressing into
our work
and our

Jessy Randall

If you have any thoughts about this poem,  Jessy Randall would be pleased to hear them.

Jessy's Mathematics for Ladies was published in 2022 by Goldsmith's Press. I consists of short poetic accounts of women mathematicians and scientists. You can buy it here.
A second volume  (including the ones on this page) will be appearing soon.