• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: What to Include?

... in a museum honoring American women?

May 18, 2017

When I teach History of Math, I often try to emphasize the role of Mathematicians who were women, as the field is still very male dominated. One of my students’ favorite women mathematicians is often the Greek mathematician Hypatia. I found myself thinking of her recently when I learned that there is a movement growing to build a women’s museum in the Smithsonian. While such a museum is probably years away from becoming a reality, it made me think about what might be included in such a museum celebrating the role played by women in the history of our country.

I admit that my thoughts on such a museum are largely derived from my own life experiences. However, that did not stop me from trying to imagine what might be housed in a museum celebrating the role women have played in our country.

I would begin with some of the founding mothers, from Martha Washington to Abigail Adams to (while coming later) Mary Todd Lincoln. However, I would also want to mention a teenage girl, Sybil Ludington. In 1777, she rode a horse throughout the hills of New York and Connecticut to gather the Continental Army and warn them that the town of Danbury, where I grew up, was in danger from the British Army. She never received the publicity that Paul Revere did, although my home town celebrates her in many ways.

I would hope that such a museum would celebrate the women who brought their skills and families into unfamiliar lands, some helping to build cities in the part of the country I now call “home.” Perhaps some mention should be made of Laura Ingles Wilder, who chronicled  some of that migration from the perspective of a little girl, thus making it real to generations of children. And I hope that a museum of this type would find a way to honor the many women who served as midwives, bringing new generations of U.S. citizens into the world in the days before modern medicine. Along these lines, how could we honor the many women who gave birth before the benefit of pain killers?

Women who fought for and eventually earned the right to vote should assume a prominent role in any such museum, as should those who worked to eliminate slavery. They took prophetic positions in difficult times, often paying a high price.

The women who came, indirectly, from France to found Ursuline College, where I teach, certainly deserve some recognition. I think of them on days when Ohio winters are particularly brutal, ones in which I complain about not being able to find a good parking space for my (warm) car. I can’t imagine the struggles they dealt with on a daily basis, as they needed to acquire food and shelter in a land that was often unwelcoming.

I would want to include two other Clevelanders. In 1980, Ursuline Sister (and Ursuline College alumna) Dorothy Kazel, along with Cleveland lay missionary Jean Donovan, were among four women killed in El Salvador while working with the poor. They are among many other women who paid high prices for their idealism as our country grew. I would also like to give credit to the mother of Martin Luther King, and to the grandmother of Barack Obama. Without their wise guidance, these groundbreaking men might have never found their place in history. Indeed, perhaps there should be a whole exhibit about the positive influence of mothers.

I recall a report on 60 minutes describing the creation of the Museum of African American History. They explained that many families brought items from their attics and basements to be evaluated in an atmosphere that reminded me of “Antiques Road Show.” I am sure that there are many items that could be added to this museum, from corsets to political signs and stickers. I remember old ledgers kept by my grandmother, chronicling the business my grandfather ran. She would always refer to it as “his business,” even though she, without attending high school, was the business brains that made it successful. I look forward to, perhaps, someday taking my daughter to such a museum.

So, readers, what would you include in a museum honoring the role of women in our country?



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