Christine Ladd-Franklin: A Leader for Women's Education

Katherine Zoroufy, Carly Shinners


Christine Ladd-Franklin was the first American woman to earn a PhD in mathematics, and yet had to wait 44 years to receive that degree. The purpose of this project is to research the life of this remarkable woman and her impact on others. This research was done by investigating her life using her personal journal, her published mathematics thesis, her published work in psychology, archived newspaper articles, and various other sources. Ladd-Franklin graduated from Vassar College in 1869 and attended Johns Hopkins University for graduate school. There she finished the requirements for a PhD in mathematics regardless of the fact that she needed special permission from professors to attend their classes. Despite the fact that her graduate thesis, "On the Algebra of Logic", was published in 1883, Johns Hopkins did not award degrees to women at that time. Thus it took 44 years after earning her PhD to receive the recognition. In addition to work in mathematics, Ladd-Franklin spent a year in Germany researching in two prestigious psychology laboratories where she developed her theory on color vision. She published her psychology theory on sensation in the book Colour and Colour Theories in 1929, just a year before she died at the age of 82. Along with Ladd-Franklin's academic achievements, her support towards the advancement of other women is equally impressive. She overcame many obstacles and used these experiences to help other women. Among her successes, Ladd-Franklin was the first woman professor at Johns Hopkins University. In the hope that women would have equal opportunities in university settings, she often lectured for no pay at institutions such as Columbia and Harvard. She also promoted women's higher education as a chair member on a committee for the Association of Collegiate Alumna where she started a fellowship which provided financial assistance for women to study abroad. In studying the barriers to women at that time and examining Christine Ladd-Franklin's own life, it is inspiring to see how her determination and bold attitude helped pave the way for herself and other women in math, science, and higher education.


Women's Studies; Mathematics

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