Grace Chisholm Young

Grace Chisholm Young was born in Haslemere, England. Although her brother was sent to grammar school, a prestigious boarding school, where he could earn a top scholarship to Oxford, Grace and her sister were educated by a governess at home. In these times, this was the custom. Grace became involved in social work helping the poor in London. She had aspirations of studying medicine, but her family would not allow it. However, Grace wanted very much to continue her studies, so she entered Girton College, part of Cambridge University to study mathematics. Girton was the first school at the university level that was dedicated to educating women. In 1893, Grace passed her final examinations and scored the equivalent of a first-class degree. However, women were not awarded formal degrees at that time.

In order to continue her studies, Grace had to go to Gottingen in Germany to study with Felix Klein. Women were not allowed to attend graduate school in England. Gottingen was one of the major mathematical centers in the world. Grace went on the attain the first woman to receive a doctorate in any field in Germany.

While at Girton, Grace had a tutor by the name of William Young, whom she married the year after she received her Ph.D. at Gottingen. Grace and William spent the next 44 years together. They produced more than 200 mathematical papers and books, many of which were in Williamís name. Grace had a very major role in producing these papers. William noted in an article in 1914 that he had discussed the major idea of the work with his wife, and Grace had elaborated on the argument and put it into publishable form. Grace produced many papers on her own despite the fact that her husband was away from the family for large parts of the year and she was left in Switzerland to take care of the children. She wrote a paper in 1915 on the foundations of calculus that won the Gamble Prize at Cambridge. She and her husband also published books on geometry and set theory.

Grace and William had six children together in a span of nine years. Most of their children went on to become mathematicians. Besides being a great mathematician, Grace completed all the requirements for a medical degree except the internship. She also learned six languages and taught each of her children a musical instrument. With the approach of World War II, Grace left Switzerland in 1940 to take two of her grandchildren to England. Grace was to return immediately, but because of the fall of France, she could not. This left William alone, and he died two years later in 1942. Two years after that, Grace died of a heart attack.

Of their six children, three continued on to study mathematics, one daughter became a physician, and one son pursued a career in finance and business. The eldest son was killed in World War I. One of Graceís fourteen grandchildren, Sylvia Wiegand, is a mathematician at the University of Nebraska and is a past president of the Association for Women in Mathematics.

Contributed by Amy Troutman


  1. Katz, Victor J. A History of Mathematics, Addison-Wesley, 1998.
  2. (Internet) URL: June 7, 1999.
  3. (Internet) URL: June 7, 12:30pm.

Home  |  Women  |  Men  |  Topics  |  Activities