Famous Female Mathematicians and their Contributions (Part II)


19 November 2020                

Read time: 3 minutes

Read out the previous part of Famous Female mathematicians here.

Hey, have you heard of Einstein? Yes. Ok, how about Pythagoras? Yeah, we thought you would have. But have you heard of  Mary Jackson or Dorothy Vaughan?

Unfortunately, there is a stereotype out there that maths is a boy's subject, and this is reinforced by the fact that most of the famous mathematicians we often hear about are men. However, there have been plenty of women who have made groundbreaking contributions to the world of mathematics.

Also Read: 

Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright

Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright Born: Dec 17, 1900

Died: April 3, 1998

Hometown: Aynho, Northamptonshire, England

Education: St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, 1923

Mary Cartwright was a British mathematician and a woman of many firsts! She was not only the first woman to obtain a first in her university degree, but also one of the first mathematicians to study what is now known as chaos theory. She was the first woman to receive the Sylvester Medal (awarded for the encouragement of mathematical research), the first woman to be President of the Mathematical Association, and the first woman to be President of the London Mathematical Society.

Mary’s impact:

Thanks to her bravery in daring to defy the status quo, her work has gone on to strongly influence the modern theory of dynamical systems, and she even has a mathematical theorem named after her!

Her mathematical theorem, now known as Cartwright's theorem, gives an estimate for the maximum modulus of an analytic function that takes the same value no more than p times in the unit disc. To prove the theorem she used a new approach, applying a technique introduced by Lars Ahlfors for conformal mappings.

Awards & Recognition:

Cartwright was the first woman:

  • to receive the Sylvester Medal
  • to serve on the Council of the Royal Society
  • to be President of the Mathematical Association (in 1951)
  • to be President of the London Mathematical Society (in 1961–62)
  • In 1968, Cartwright received the De Morgan Medal of the Society and was elected an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh (HonFRSE).
  • In 1969, she received the distinction of being honored by the Queen, becoming Dame Mary Cartwright, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Mary Jackson

Mary JacksonBorn: April 9, 1921

Died: Feb 11, 2005

Hometown: Hampton, Virginia

Education: Hampton University, 1942

Mary Jackson, an American mathematician and aerospace engineer who, in 1958, became the first African American female engineer to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Jackson worked as an aerospace engineer for some 20 years. Much of her work centered on the airflow around aircraft. Despite early promotions, she was denied management-level positions, and in 1979 she left engineering and took a demotion to become manager of the women’s program at NASA. In that post, she sought to improve the opportunities for all women at the organization. She retired in 1985. Jackson’s contributions to the space program received greater recognition after her death in 2005.

Jackson’s Impact:

Having first worked in human computing, Jackson went on to study wind tunnels; eventually entering a training program to get promoted from mathematician to engineer. The after-work classes where the training took place were conducted in a segregated high school, and Jackson had to obtain permission to be allowed to attend with her white classmates.

After completing the courses, Jackson in 1958 became NASA’s first African American female engineer. According to the space agency’s website, it is possible that Jackson might have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the male-dominated field at the time. Over the next two decades, she worked at several NASA departments and authored or co-authored 12 technical papers before retiring in 1985.

Jackson also worked at the Federal Women’s Program, the NASA Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and the Affirmative Action Program, where she furthered the role of women in NASA’s science, engineering, and mathematics careers. Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States in 2019.

Awards and Recognition:

  • Apollo Group Achievement Award, 1969
  • National Technical Association's Tribute Award, 1976
  • Langley Research Center Outstanding Volunteer Award, 1975
  • Langley Research Center Volunteer of the Year, 1976

Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy VaughanBorn: Sept 20, 1910

Died: Nov 10, 2008

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri

Education: B.A., Mathematics, Wilberforce University, 1929

Dorothy Vaughan, an American mathematician and computer programmer who made important contributions to the early years of the U.S. space program and who was the first African American manager at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Awards and Recognition:

  • West Virginia Conference of the A.M.E. Sunday School Convention – Full Tuition Scholarship (1925)
  • Wilberforce University – Mathematician Graduate Cum Laude (1929)
  • Head of National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics' Segregated West Computing Unit (1949-58)
  • On October 16, 2019, a lunar crater was named after her. This name was chosen by planetary scientist Ryan N. Watkins and her student, and submitted on what would have been Dorothy Vaughan's 109th birthday.
  • Congressional Gold Medal (2019)

Vaughan's impact

Vaughan was employed as a mathematician at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor agency to NASA) in what she thought would be a temporary job.

A beneficiary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, Vaughan was among the first group of African Americans to be hired as mathematicians and scientists. The executive order prohibited discrimination based on race, religion and ethnicity in the defense industry.

Dorothy Vaughan’s employer, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was segregated, and black employees were forced to use separate bathrooms and dining facilities. Amid these conditions, Vaughan was promoted to lead the West Computers in 1949, becoming NACA’s first black supervisor and one of its few female supervisors


Read out the previous part of Famous Female mathematicians here.

We have discussed above the list of famous mathematicians and their contributions to mathematics. However, they all are from foreign countries. There are famous Indian mathematicians also like Srinivasa Ramanujan, Aryabhata, Shakuntala Devi, and many more.

If you wish to know more about famous Indian mathematicians and their mathematics contributions, visit: 

About Cuemath

Cuemath, a student-friendly mathematics and coding platform, conducts regular Online Live Classes for academics and skill-development, and their Mental Math App, on both iOS and Android, is a one-stop solution for kids to develop multiple skills. Understand the Cuemath Fee structure and sign up for a free trial.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When did Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright die?

Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright passed away at the age of 98 years on April 3, 1998.

Who was the first black woman to work for NASA?

Mary Jackson

Who were Dorothy Vaughan's parents?

Father: Leonard Johnson 

Mother: Annie Johnson

External References

To know more about Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, Visit these blogs:

Related Articles
Access Personalised Math learning through interactive worksheets, gamified concepts and grade-wise courses
Learn More About Cuemath