Friday, October 1, 2010

In History: Kathleen Ollerenshaw

This is the 45th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Dame Kathleen Mary Ollerenshaw was born on this day, Oct. 1, in 1912 in Manchester. She is a British mathematician and politician who has been deaf since the age of 8. When she was 19 years old, she was admitted to Somerville College in Oxford to study mathematics. She completed her doctorate at Somerville in 1945 and wrote five original research papers to earn her DPhil degree. In her autobiography (published at age 93), Ollerenshaw wrote that deafness intensified her interest in mathematics since mathematics was "the one subject in which I was at no disadvantage. Nearly all equations are found in books or shown on the blackboard as the teacher speaks. ... Learning mathematics is rarely as dependent on the spoken word as are most lessons and lectures in other subjects. Mathematics became my lifeline as well as an increasing source of joy."

Ollerenshaw has served a number of roles in education and politics. She worked as a part-time lecturer in the mathematics department at Manchester University; served as a Conservative Councilor for Rusholme for 26 years (1956-1981), was Lord Mayor of Manchester (1975-1976), and the prime motivator in the creation of the Royal Northern College of Music. She was made a Freeman of the City of Manchester and was an advisor on educational matters to Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s. She served as the president of St, Leonards School in St. Andrews from 1981-2003

Ollerenshaw has published many mathematical papers, including her best-known contribution: a book she published at age 85 called "Most-Perfect Pandiagonal Magic Squares" that solved a long-standing and difficult problem.

An annual public lecture at the School of Mathematics, University of Manchester, is named in her honor. Also, an observatory at Lancaster University bears her name. She is an honorary member of the Manchester Astronomical Society and held the post of vice president for a number of years.

You can read much more about Ollerenshaw here and listen to a 2004 BBC interview with her here.

Happy 98th birthday to Dame Ollerenshaw!

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