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Philippa Fawcett

John Simkin

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Philippa Garrett Fawcett, the daughter of Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Henry Fawcett, was born in London on 4th April 1868. According to her biographer, Rita McWilliams Tullberg: "Philippa Fawcett's political and intellectual inheritance was formidable. Both her parents were active in the movement for the higher education of women. Not yet two years old, she reportedly toddled among the group of senior academics and their wives meeting in her parents' drawing-room in Cambridge in 1869 to plan the scheme of lectures for women that led, in time, to the foundation of Newnham College."

Philippa attended Clapham High School. Her teachers were very impressed with her abilities as a mathematician and at fifteen it was arranged for her to receive coaching from George Barnes Atkinson of Trinity Hall College. From 1885 to 1887 she attended courses at University College, in pure and applied mathematics and mechanics, and she also studied chemistry at Bedford College before being awarded a Winkworth scholarship to study mathematics at Newnham College.

In June 1890, Philippa Fawcett became the first woman to score the highest mark of all the candidates for the Mathematical Tripos at the University of Cambridge. This news produced a great deal of excitement at Newnham, and was widely reported in the national press. The following year she sat part two of the tripos, which was considered to demand more originality and ingenuity of candidates. Once again she showed her talent by being placed, together with Geoffrey Thomas Bennett, the male senior wrangler of her year, alone in the first class. As Rita McWilliams Tullberg points out: "Bennett was made a fellow of St John's College, awarded the university prize for mathematics, and lectured for the university. Fawcett was not eligible for any such lucrative posts or prizes."


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