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Philippa Fawcett

Philippa Fawcett

The basics
Occupations Mathematician
Countries United Kingdom
Gender female
Birth April 4, 1868 (Brighton)
Death June 10, 1948 (London)
Mother: Millicent Fawcett
Father: Henry Fawcett
The details

Philippa Garrett Fawcett (4 April 1868 – 10 June 1948) was an English mathematician and educationalist.


She was the daughter of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett and of Henry Fawcett MP, Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and Postmaster General in Gladstone's government. Her aunt was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first English female doctor.


Philippa Fawcett was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge which had been co-founded by her mother. In 1890 Fawcett became the first woman to obtain the top score in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams. The results were always highly publicised, with the top scorers receiving great acclaim. Her score was 13 per cent higher than the second highest score, but she did not receive the title of senior wrangler, as only men were then ranked, with women listed separately. Women had been allowed to take the Tripos since 1881, after Charlotte Angas Scott was unofficially ranked as eighth wrangler. When the women's list was announced Fawcett was described as "above the senior wrangler".

Coming amidst the women's suffrage movement, Fawcett's feat gathered worldwide media coverage, spurring much discussion about women's capacities and rights. The lead story in the Telegraph the following day said:


Following Fawcett's achievement in the Mathematical Tripos, she won a scholarship at Cambridge through which she conducted research in Fluid Dynamics. Her published papers include "Note on the Motion of Solids in a Liquid".

She was subsequently appointed as a College Lecturer in Mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge a position she held for 10 years. In this capacity, her teaching abilities received considerable praise. One student wrote:

Fawcett left Cambridge in 1902, when she was appointed as a lecturer to train mathematics teachers at the Normal School, Johannesburg, South Africa. Here, she remained until 1905, setting up schools in South Africa. She then returned to England to take a position in the administration of education for London County Council. Here, in her work developing secondary schools, she attained a high rank on the London City Council.

Philippa Fawcett maintained strong links with Newnham College throughout her life. The Fawcett building (1938) was named in recognition of her contribution to Newnham, and that of her family. She died on 10 June 1948, two months after her 80th birthday, just one month after the Grace that allowed women to be awarded the Cambridge BA degree received royal assent, and fifty eight years after coming above the 'senior wrangler'.

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