Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Lady of longitude," by Stephanie Pain. New Scientist, 13 March 2004, pages 48-49.

This article tells the story of Mary Edwards, a woman who lived in the 18th century and did arithmetic computations used in longitude calculations. Her husband contracted for the computing work, but it was Mary actually carried it out. When he died in 1784, she continued to support her family by earning money as a "human computer". At that time women typically did not learn much mathematics, and it is not known how she learned the arithmetic skills to do these computations. The article is based on new research presented in "Mary Edwards: Computing for a living in 18th-century England," by Mary Croarken, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, volume 25, page 9.

--- Allyn Jackson