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"Mathematics" is an ever-growing set of tools for understanding the world in which we live. And by better understanding the world with it's many systems, properties, objects and processes, we can make improvements. On this page, we'll mention a few of the great mathematicians who have helped us improve the quality of life on earth.


Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872)

Mary Fairfax was born in 1780 in Lowland Scotland to an upwardly mobile middle-class family who certainly had the resources to provide their children with a good education. Mary's father was a naval officer and eventually became Vice-Admiral Sir William Fairfax.

Unfortunately, she was a girl -- at a time when it did not seem important for girls to be well-educated. Largely self-taught in mathematics, Mary's initial interest in geometry was probably sparked by her exposure to the more lady-like pastime of painting in perspective.

Mary's life of privilege and her second husband's connections often put her in the company of Europe's great scientists and mathematicians. This probably increased her chances of having her early papers published by the leading institutions, such as her Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum. Other very important publications followed, including:

  • The Mechanism of the Heavens
  • The Connection of the Physical Sciences
  • Physical Geography
  • Molecular and Microscopic Science

Mary Fairfax Somerville was an extraordinary mathematician and succeeded profoundly in a male-dominated field. In 1835, she and another were the first women elected to the Royal Astronomical Society.


Note regarding our Math Lesson One: While Mary's meeting with Mrs. Culbertson is fictitious, such a discussion with a kitchen servant seems quite reasonable.

The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #12


William Halbert

Fenwick Parish Kirk Session Minutes: June 28 1761

The Moderator represented that, in Consequence of their agreeing formerly to send notice to William Halbert in Cumnock who was well spoke of as a teacher to come here and converse with him about the office of Schoolmaster. He had come and brought with him sufficient testimonials of his moral character from Messers Muir and Young, Ministers in New and Old Cumnock, which the Moderator produced and were read. He also reported that he was satisfied with the specimens of his writing & other qualities.  Thereupon the Session were unanimously of opinion that, considering the long vacation by Mr. Wallace going away in January last and setting up another school, the said William Halbert should immediately take up the school in this place and continue for twelve months that both he and the Parish might have a trial. And that if either the Parish or he was not pleased [notice] should be given that the School might not again be too long vacant, which was intimated from the Pulpit and the Moderator undertook to speak with the Earl of Glasgow [for his]  consent. This meeting concluded with prayer.

Note: Fenwick Parish was about mid-way between Old Cumnock and Paisley -- consider Mr. Halbert in the context of this page.

The Scarboro Heights Record V13 #1