Women in Math: Alice Lee (1858-1939)
Alice Lee was a 19th century mathematician from the United Kingdom who used statistics to refute the problematic theory of craniology, which proposed that skull size was an indicator of intelligence.
Courting controversy from her earliest days, Alice Lee was the first woman to graduate from London University. She applied maths to biology to refute the commonly accepted theory of craniology, which was hugely biased, yet widely used in medicine. Craniology used the size and shape of skulls as a reference point for intellectual ability, and was not only founded on racial and gender biases, but used to further support these biases!
Alice’s work investigated correlations between the human skull and gender, demonstrating that
there was no link between skull size and intelligence. This was valuable, as the theory previously has deduced that women had a lower intellectual capacity due to a statistical likelihood of women having smaller skulls.
The mathematician’s work was vital in demonstrating the flawed nature of craniology and played a crucial role in its demise. Her significant contribution to science is something we should be grateful for, as it eliminated a theory that had drastic implications.
Alice Lee is an inspirational Femme of STEM for both her world-leading research and for her admirable legacy.
Further Reading: 'Alice in Eugenics-Land': Feminism and eugenics in the scientific careers of Alice Lee and Ethel Elderton. 1979. Rosaleen Love. Annals of Science. Volume 36, pages 145-158.
Alice Gray is a STEMinist blogger, writer and science communicator, who aims to raise awareness for inequality in science and address the lack of women and girls in STEM.
Follow Alice's work at mindfulofscience.org