Mary Somerville – Mathematician who found algebra in a fashion magazine

A woman born in an era where the sole purpose of a woman’s life was to look after ones husband and children, Mary Somerville was an exception. Born into an orthodox family, Mary was a wild child. However, her parents made it a point to keep their weird girl away from anything ‘improper’ for a lady. And ironically Mary first found about the love of her life in the most unusual place – a fashion magazine!

Sometimes I find problems difficult, but my old obstinacy remains, for if I do not succeed today, I attack them again on the morrow. ~ Mary Somervile

Mary Somerville was born in the late 18th century, an era where women were expected to do nothing other than marry and indulge in household chores. Mary was a wild child, she preferred outdoors to reading. She loved to explore and was a sharp observer.

Her father, alarmed at the sight of a daughter who refused to fit into the usual stereotypes, sent her away to an elite boarding school for girls. Mary hated the place and was sent back home after she refused to settle down like the other girls.

After her return, her mother decided to keep Mary engaged in practicing dance steps and attending tea parties. When the bland routine started getting into Mary’s skin, she turned to the only source of challenge she could get her hands on – puzzles in the ladies magazines.

One day, Mary noticed a complex mathematical formula which was used as a decorative pattern in a fashion magazine. Intrigued by the formula, she sat down to solve it and there began a decades old affair between Mary and the love of her life – mathematics.

It was not easy journey for Mary, with a husband who hated the idea of his wife studying algebra and a society which looked down upon a woman who wanted to pursue her muse. However, after the death of her husband, Mary was determined to pursue her passion and became one of the world’s first female mathematicians to author books on mathematics!

Action Summary:

  • If you believe in your true passion, no force in this world can stop you from pursuing the same.
  • Sometimes one finds the sparks to ignite ones inner passion in the most unusual place.

~ Gitanjali Banerjee