Women Becoming Mathematicians

Women Becoming Mathematicians

Creating a Professional Identity in Post-World War II America

By Margaret A. M. Murray

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





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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262133692 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$20.00 X ISBN: 9780262632461 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • A sophisticated, scholarly, and readable study—this is without a doubt the best book yet written on American women mathematicians. It is a 'must read' for women (and men) of the mathematical community, as well as for specialists in history of science, sociology of the professions, and women's studies.

    Ann Hibner Koblitz

    Women's Studies Program, Arizona State University

  • This book is not only an insightful and useful study of women in mathematics—it is a page-turner. As thirty-six women mathematicians come alive in these pages Margaret A. M. Murray destroys the myth of the cloistered mathematical life and implicitly challenges us to find a new mythology that works for the next century. I couldn't put it down.

    Howard Georgi

    Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, Harvard University, and Former Co-chair, Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, National Research Council