Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

I hope you all have parties planned.  In case you don’t remember from last year’s celebration, Ada Lovelace day is a time to celebrate and bring attention to women in science, tech, and math.  Here’s how it got started and how it works today:

Ada Lovelace Day was launched in 2009 with a simple pledge on British civil action site, Pledgebank. Nearly 2,000 people signed up to blog about a woman in technology whom they admired on 24 March. The day was an astounding success, with contributors writing blog posts, newspaper columns and even a webcomic, Sydney Padua’s Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. The media covered Ada Lovelace Day with enthusiasm, including coverage from The GuardianThe Telegraph, the BBC and Computer Weekly amongst others.

Ada Lovelace Day this year will be held on 16 October. Over the coming year, FindingAda.com will develop into a resource for women in science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as for parents, teachers and lecturers who care about encouraging girls and young women to enter the STEM disciplines. Please do stay with us as we evolve!

Last year, I blogged about one fictional and one non-fictional woman scientist (and if you look back, you’ll know who guessed correctly on my new Halloween costume), and I plan to do the same thing this year.  So, first up:


Thomasina Coverly from Arcadia

I cannot recommend this play enough.  It unfolds on one set in two time periods.  The lit professors in the present are looking through primary source documents (and fighting about how to interpret them) that come from the same period as the part of the narrative set in the past.  So, as the audience, you might see the scholars misinterpret a document you saw created, or hear them mention an event that has not yet occurred in the other timeline.

In the past setting, Thomasina is a young woman in the early 1800s being tutored in mathematics and other subjects by Septimus Hodge.  She is bright, inventive, and inquisitive and is prone to notice and be confused by the weird bits of reality that most of ignore because we see them all the time.  Here’s where she spots the strangeness of entropy and one-way functions in her breakfast:

“When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?”

The play ends up touching on fractal geometry (though it’s only known by that name in the present), and I love Thomasina’s high expectations for what math will do:

Thomasina: Each week I plot your equations dot for dot, xs against ys in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?

Septimus: We do.

Thomasina: Then why do your equations only describe the shapes of manufacture?

Septimus: I do not know.

Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.

Septimus: He has mastery of equations which lead into infinities where we cannot follow.

Thomasina: What a faint-heart! We must work outward from the middle of the maze. We will start with something simple. (She picks up the apple leaf.) I will plot this leaf and deduce its equation. You will be famous for being my tutor when Lord Byron is dead and forgotten.


Meanwhile, in real life, I want to draw your attention to Aminatou Sow and all the women of the Tech Ladies Mafia (which she founded).  GOOD did a nice feature piece on the group; here’s what Aminatou and a few other women had to say:

Aminatou Sow, digital strategist and founder, Tech LadyMafia: We started the Tech LadyMafia because we were tired of hearing about “the woman problem” in tech instead of hearing about solutions. TLM is a place to support tech women, promote each other’s work, provide resources, and get paid to do what we love. When I moved to D.C., my friend Reihan Salam, a smart, generous human, gave me this great piece of advice: “Meet awesome people and build an awesome team.“

Kate, attorney: I joined because after six years in the tech policy world, I was still having trouble finding people to answer my engineering and [computer science] questions without making me feel like an idiot. TLM is a way for me to get deeper into the science side of the legal work I do without the condescension I kept hitting when I reached out to tech guys I knew.

Jeanne Brooks, community & digital innovations expert: [It’s] based on a philosophy of horizontal loyalty versus mentorship [that] I learned from my friend and colleague Robert Hernandez of USC Annenberg. [M]entorship is often seen as a one-way vertical between an expert and an early career worker. Horizontal loyalty recognizes that every worker has skills and knowledge to share and creates space for the relationship to be mutually beneficial. Using this as a basic foundation for organizing yields positive and inclusive results.

Christine Corbett Moran, theoretical physicist: I was plagued by gender stereotypes as a child but was lucky enough to be admitted to and later attend MIT where I found my groove in a freshman class of 50 percent brilliant women and studied computer science. I’ve since worked in a variety of technical fields and believe technology is the key to changing the world, and only men changing the world means a worse world. Ergo, we need ladies in tech. The first and simplest step is to care about the problem—agree that it is a problem that is important to solve. So many in the valley and the world don’t take this step and as a result we have inferior projects, products and engineers.

If you watch the social science news, you probably saw that men and women rated resumes lower, thought the people who wrote them were less competent, and were less inclined to pass them on to an interview if there was a woman’s name at the top of the page.  The candidate was applying for a lab manager position, and the only variation was a male or female name on the top of the identical list of accomplishments.

That means the Tech Ladies Mafia isn’t just fighting against cartoon sexists, with moustaches, railroad tracks, and rope.  A lot of the problem is unconscious sexism, which might be carried out by women who want to be feminists, but subconsciously look for someone who matched the successful people they see around them.  The Tech Ladies Mafia helps women talk about how to work around gender-related problems that come up (how can you be assertive without being written off as shrill) and just took live an anonymous Q&A for broader questions about getting into STEM fields and negotiating sexism (on purpose or accidental) once you’re there.

So these women are awesome successors to Ada in their own fields and are helping other people follow in their footsteps.  (I’m a member of the listserv, more as a tech enthusiast than a lady currently in tech, though my job does involve some statistics and modelling).


If you want to get Ada-like superpowers, perhaps you should read Gödel, Escher, Bach, pick up some coding skills on Udacity’s intro classes, and/or take a crack at some of the problems on Project Euler. It’s a very beautiful world out there.


Post your recommendations for awesome women scientists in this thread “Tell Me Which Women Scientists/Authors/Geeks Inspire You” which has restricted commenting rules so it can be a list of resources, not a fight.


Updated to add: I’ll link to any Ada Lovelace posts by Tech Lady Mafiosi or blog readers if you alert me to them:

Pam the Webivore – “Justine Cassell and why I fell in love with Computer Science”

Eve Tushnet – on Debi Thomas, a surgeon and Olympic skater

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  • Maiki

    Hah! I lived with Christine in college. 🙂

  • deiseach

    “You will be famous for being my tutor when Lord Byron is dead and forgotten.”

    The cynic in me says that if any equation does result, future textbooks will refer to Hodge as the originator, and Coverly will be lucky to get a footnote as his student who recorded his data for him. I’m thinking of this article on Watson and Crick, which correctly demonstrates that they built on the work of other scientists, and gives a list of those – but manages to give us a whole paragraph on Phoebus Levene, while sparing a single line to mentionRosalind Franklin.

    So we get to find out about

    • I suspect this is less because she is a woman, and more because they didn’t want to acknowledge the blatant theft of her data that they were complicit in.

  • WHat?! Women can be scientists? Next thing you know they’ll be letting women vote… 😉

  • Karen

    Please explain to me how you can publish this while being a member of an organization that teaches that women are nothing more than walking wombs. JPII said that women’s principal role in life was as a mother, and canonized a woman because she died of cancer rather than seek treatment that would injure her fetus. Hr work as a doctor was meaningless, dying for being pregnant was “noble.” No Catholic can honestly ever be inafavor of women’s rights or achievements. Your church believes women are broodmares, not humans.

    • strawman much?

      • Karen

        Show any evidence that the Catholic church supports policies that make it easier for obtain higher education and use that schooling in careers. Any policy will do.

        • leahlibresco

          The existence of Catholic schools? The Church doesn’t set many policies, so it’s not like I can point to Pell Grants, but Catholic schools send girls to college enthusiastically.

          • Karen

            Not good enough. If the schools only teach sewing and cooking to girls, they reinforce the idea that women are domestic drudges. Show me a catholic scholarship for girls to study science in college. Show me a statement from a bishop encouraging people to vote for the elimination of policies that keep women in subordinate roles, such as the lack of good, cheap child are. Show me a bishop who uses church funds for a domestic violence shelter, or microcredit loans, or even one who condemns the idea that women should have a domestic focus. Anything. Use you creativity.

          • leahlibresco

            They don’t only teach sewing and cooking to girls. I’m not sure where you’re sourcing that from. Catholic schools (same sex or coed) are pretty much like regular schools (AP math classes and all). If you were correct, would you predict the curricula to be different?

          • KL

            Karen, a Google search will turn up tons of results on any of those topics. Search for “Catholic domestic violence shelter” and you will be flooded with hits. Here’s a statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops specifically on domestic violence: http://old.usccb.org/laity/help.shtml . Here’s another regarding the encouragement of women’s lay leadership in the church, opening with JPII’s statement that “Above all, the acknowledgment in theory of the active and responsible presence of women in the Church must be realized in practice”: http://old.usccb.org/laity/words.shtml . Scholarships for Catholic girls going into STEM fields abound, again easily found via Google. And Catholic high schools have curricula that do not differ in any substantial way from public or secular private schools.

          • Maiki

            “Can you find an example after the Middle Ages and who isn’t royalty or nobility?”
            None of the Doctors of the Church were royalty or nobility.

            ” And who isn’t a nun?”

            St. Catherine of Siena is not a nun, actually, nor a sister — she was a lay Dominican (meaning she lived outside the order with no support from them except in her studies and was not doing that full time). Yet she is known for her theological contributions and schooling the pope. Ditto St. Rose of Lima.

            What is wrong with being a nun, anyway? You are asking for women who took important leadership positions in the Church, but were not working in the Church full time or had monetary influence in society? That is like asking for names of Popes that weren’t Bishops at some point — there is a handful, but sort of a nonsensical question.

            ” I want to see your church advocate for married women to participate as equals to men in public life.”

            Blessed Zelie Martin was a working bourgeoisie woman who earned more than her husband (he ended up helping her with her fine lace making business that she started). The Opus Dei gives Catholic women (not opus members) full scholarships for undergraduate and graduate degrees in non-theological fields. etc. etc. Not sure what sort of evidence you are looking for, here? The Catholic Church only has a policy against abortion, not against women being educated, smart, etc.

          • Ted Seeber

            One of my favorite women at my parish is a Church historian well respected in the diocese, with a doctorate of theology. That means she’s better educated than many priests are.

        • Actually the Catholic church was the first to put women in many places of leadership. St Clare of Assisi, St Catherine of Sienna, St Teresa of Avila, St. Hildegard of Bingen, etc. These women were leaders in the church long before before that kind of leadership was accepted from women anywhere else.

          • Karen

            Can you find an example after the Middle Ages and who isn’t royalty or nobility? And who isn’t a nun? I want to see your church advocate for married women to participate as equals to men in public life.

            As for schools, I’m glad to know they teach girls the same things they teach the boys, at least those tiny few who can afford the tuition.

          • KL

            Your request for a post-medieval, non-noble and non-religious saint who is male would be just as difficult to answer. Members of religious orders and nobility have a distinct advantage in the formal canonization process since they are far more likely to have attracted a devoted following to initiate and carry the canonization process — unfair, perhaps, but a fact of the process. As for women participating in public life, many women entered religious orders precisely to be active in public life, since Western society (as you rightly point out) has largely restricted married women’s sphere to the home until very recently. As nuns, women had the political and economic freedom to found schools and hospitals, participate in politics (look into St. Catherine of Siena if you want an example of a very bold woman!), and otherwise exercise their gifts and talents without being tied and beholden to a husband or father, as was the expectation for women at the time. Married women, up until the first half of the twentieth century, by and large simply couldn’t participate as equals to men in the public life based on societal, political, and cultural constraints, independent of the Church’s policies or encouragements. By excluding those women who took advantage of the opportunities provided by the Church to transcend structures of oppression, you’re excluding the very women you should be extolling!

        • Maiki

          Umm… Catholic schools and Catholic universities have been educating women for centuries. Recently, another woman, St. Hildegarn of Bingen was named Doctor of the Church, for her theological contributions and scholarly contributions in music and science.

          Nuns and sisters have been receiving scholarly educations, and using those to teach and practice medicine long before women regularly got an education anywhere except for the exceedingly wealthy. They did so while running those institutions themselves and not having babies at all!

          Most female saints are not mothers, (well, this is true across the board, as married saints are not common), but often nuns (St. Theresa), sisters (St. Clare) and single women (St. Rose of Lima), or even childless married women (St. Catherine of Genoa), or married women with children with jobs and businesses (Blessed Zelie Martin). Many Catholic saints were martyred by secular authorities for the right to not marry at all (St. Lucy), which the Catholic Church was one of the few institutions that let them do that.

          But the truth is, most women will be mothers and the most important thing they will do will be raise children — that is simple biological reality, just like the most important thing most men will do will be fathers. The statement is not an indictment on women doing awesome things outside of child rearing, but lifting up ordinary women in their normal vocations.

          St. Gianna of Molla was sainted for going above and beyond the call of duty by sacrificing her life for another. It wasn’t that her work as a doctor was meaningless (she was not denigrated for working), but that sainthood is not an award of utilitarian merit (such as winning a nobel prize in medicine), but of degree of virtue, such as courage and love.

        • deiseach

          Karen, you seem to believe that St. Gianna Molla was of no account as a doctor, since you skip over her choice to refuse treatment that would have indirectly resulted in the death of her child (a hysterectomy). Instead, you seem to think that – what? she was brainwashed by sinister Jesuits or strapped down to the hospital bed by ruler-wielding nuns until she gave birth?

          She was a paediatrician who was capable of evaluating the choices offered to her and who made this one. If sacrificing your life for your child is not noble, then what is? By your logic, humane societies should be banned from presenting awards since these do not recognise rights or achievements of the persons involved, but only that they risked their lives for their fellow humans. How degrading!

          Your rhetoric reminds me of some women newspaper columnists in Britain who, when Cherie Blair became unexpectedly pregnant in 2000, opined that she should have an abortion as “an example” (an example of what, I don’t exactly know: that pregnancy is a bad thing? that abortion is super double plus good? that women shouldn’t have babies in their forties unless they’ve had expensive fertility treatement? that this was somehow letting down the cause of women by shock, horror, having a child within marriage as a result of sex with her husband?)

          As for the rest of it about broodmares – please tell that to the unregulated fertility industry which is busily turning Third World women into exactly that for rich white Westerners who are infertile or otherwise unable to have a child themselves (both same- and opposite-sex couples are guilty of this) and which has managed to commodify pregnancy so that women are willing to put themselves through horrendous expense, dangerous doses of drugs to induce hyperovulation, and all the stresses and anxieties of repeated attempts to become pregnant, yet any criticism of this (and the way in which the charges are calculated) is rebuffed as trying to stifle science and take away women’s choice.

          The Catholic Church does not say women have to be married. It does not say every woman has to have a child. It does say that if you have sex, a baby is likely to result, and so you should be prepared for the natural result of this process if you engage in it. Women educated in convent schools by nuns were encouraged to do well (I was one of those myself) and we were never told that our only choice was to get married and become a housewife.

          Where on earth do you think women teachers, women doctors, women working in offices came from before 2012? Or whenever you date the Great Leap Forward for women?

    • more substantively, JPII said that about all women, including those who were not and would not be biological mothers (see nuns). Perhaps he meant something by the word “mother” more subtle then simply a biological process, hmmm?

      • Karen

        Define what he meant.

        • That women have a unique role in bringing life to our world. Read the whole thing here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_15081988_mulieris-dignitatem_en.html

          The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way – precisely by reason of their femininity – and this in a particular way determines their vocation….
          During the Marian Year the Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the “mystery of woman” and for every woman – for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the “great works of God”, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history – the incarnation of God himself – was accomplished?

          Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for “perfect” women and for “weak” women – for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal “homeland” of all people and is transformed sometimes into a “valley of tears”; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.

          The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.

          • Karen

            We get to be pregnant. Woo. Woman are placental mammals, what a privilege! Show me where any Catholic prelate praises women’s minds and reasoning skills.

          • deiseach

            “Show me where any Catholic prelate praises women’s minds and reasoning skills.”

            Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday General Audiences, 2010 – on St. Hildegard of Bingen:

            “shall speak again next Wednesday about this great woman, this “prophetess” who also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ.”

            “From these brief references we already see that theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity. I therefore encourage all those who carry out this service to do it with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflection with prayer and looking to the great riches, not yet fully explored, of the medieval mystic tradition, especially that represented by luminous models such as Hildegard of Bingen.

            …Finally, in other writings Hildegard manifests the versatility of interests and cultural vivacity of the female monasteries of the Middle Ages, in a manner contrary to the prejudices which still weighed on that period. Hildegard took an interest in medicine and in the natural sciences as well as in music, since she was endowed with artistic talent. Thus she composed hymns, antiphons and songs, gathered under the title: Symphonia Harmoniae Caelestium Revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Heavenly Revelations), that were performed joyously in her monasteries, spreading an atmosphere of tranquillity and that have also come down to us. For her, the entire creation is a symphony of the Holy Spirit who is in himself joy and jubilation.

            …Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he may inspire in the Church holy and courageous women, like St Hildegard of Bingen, who, developing the gifts they have received from God, make their own special and valuable contribution to the spiritual development of our communities and of the Church in our time.”

            But I suppose she doesn’t count, because like St. Teresa of Avila (whose feastday we celebrated on 15th of this month), she was ‘only’ a mystic and that’s not, like, real scientific science!

          • Karen, you’re feeding the stereotype – read it again – he’s not just talking about babies when he says ‘the human person’.

          • KL

            Deiseach (and Karen), I’ll see your Benedict on Hildegard and raise you a homily from just last week, on the occasion of her being named a Doctor of the Church!

            “Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the twelfth century, offered her precious contribution to the growth of the Church of her time, employing the gifts received from God and showing herself to be a woman of brilliant intelligence, deep sensitivity and recognized spiritual authority. The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times. Hildegard nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music. Above all, she maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and the Church.”
            Emphasis added. Source: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-opens-synod-the-church-exists-to-evangelize

          • Ted Seeber

            Getting to be pregnant is a privilege men will never know.

          • Niemand

            Getting to be pregnant is a privilege men will never know.

            Do you want to? Because ectopic pregnancies on the intestinal lining can (sometimes) be brought to term and delivered by c-section successfully. Men have intestinal lining. Snowflake babies need homes…Find some funding and an IRB willing to take the project on and you might find yourself pregnant yet.

  • RED

    Thanks for the links! I’ve been wanting a good/fun place on the internet to practice my coding skills.
    Also, I recently finished “Arcadia” on your recommendation, and loved it. So thanks for that too.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    Ada Lovelace Day? What a great idea! I learned the computer language Ada long, long ago when it was supposed to be the new big thing. Didn’t quite turn out that way, but still it’s a nice acknowledgement of the first programmer.

    • Niemand

      The computer language Ada and the computer store Babbage existed more or less simultaneously, IIRC. Odd that it wasn’t the language Lovelace and the store Charles.

  • leahlibresco


    There’s a new post up with restricted commenting rules so people can actually call out awesome women scientists without getting sidetracked. If people want to bitch about anything in that thread, they can’t do it over there, they have to do it in reply to this comment.

    • Mark Shea


      When you say something good about Ada Lovelace while being a catechumen, you remind me of ADOLF HITLER!!!!!

      There. Godwin’s Law has been invoked. Can we put this ridiculous thread to sleep now? Broodmares. Placental mammals. There’s only one person on this thread obsessed with reducing women to gynecological systems and it isn’t Leah or the people attempting to celebrate Ada Lovelace. Sheesh!

    • deiseach

      I wish to complain about the intolerable repression of free speech you have engaged in by unilaterally determining what can and cannot be a topic of discourse and your high-handed suppression of debate by creating a rigid and limited space into which any dissent must be corralled, under threat of being barred, excluded and even removed by the autocratic and dictatorial standard of your personal and unchallengeable diktat.

      Of course, what other behaviour can we expect from a devotee of a mediaeval, hierarchical, patriarchal theocracy?


    • P.S. Saw your HuffPo piece on “Binders Full of Women” today and thought it was very good.

  • Ryan

    From a resident Hindu reader…
    I am thrilled to find out that Ada Lovelace day falls on the first day of Navratri, the nine nights of the Goddess, this year! Seems a lovely tribute to the divine feminine for me to go and post on your next page!

  • Irenist

    In reply to Karen from the earlier threads:
    A lot of people understandably feel that the Church is anti-woman. As a pro-life Catholic, I don’t share that view. But a lot of the rhetoric in our culture makes the Church sound like a patriarchal conspiracy to bring about “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Thus, fear of the Church’s attitudes toward women is understandable. So I think your questions are entirely fair, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
    1. A post-medieval, non-noble, non-nun female in math & science:
    Maria Agnesi (d. 1799), the first woman to become Professor of Mathematics at any university, was appointed to that position by a Pope, Benedict XIV, in 1750 (which is well after the Middle Ages). She was neither a nun (although she had wanted to be) or a noble (although her wealthy father had wanted to be).
    More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Gaetana_Agnesi
    2. Catholic microfinance aimed at women:
    “Catholic Relief Services’ microfinance program is committed to serving the very poor, especially women and vulnerable populations in remote rural communities. CRS’ programs target the self-employed poor who have little or no access to formal credit or savings services. Studies indicate that women are more likely to use their loans and profits to benefit their families by investing in their businesses and using additional income to meet household needs such as purchasing more and better quality food, improving family housing and health care, paying children’s school fees, and saving for emergencies. Ironically, women are often the poorest members of their communities and control the fewest resources, even in societies where small businesses are traditionally the women’s domain. Therefore, CRS’ microfinance programs are designed to strategically target women in an effort to uplift entire families and communities.”
    Source: http://crs.org/microfinance/
    I hope that’s responsive, Karen. Have a wonderful day.

    • Karen

      Thank you, that is exactly what I wanted. If you know of a good biography of Maria Agnesi, I would be very interested.

      I want to make an important distinction that mt earlier bought of Typing While Infuriated failed. The average Catholic believer is clearly distinct from your hierarchy. I don’t think the bishops or Curia members like women very much, and they certainly have little contact with women on a daily basis. This shows in their pronouncements and policies.

      • Irenist

        Hello again, Karen. I’m gratified to have been helpful. As for “Typing While Infuriated”: you’re kettle talking to a very frequent pot here, so no worries!
        I’ve never read an Agnesi biography myself, so I have only googling to go on. That said, a frightfully expensive ($45.33 on Amazon–Yikes!) biography called “The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God” had positive reviews–and many of them from mathematical/historical types, rather than just cheerleaders for Catholicism. Here’s Amazon’s description:
        “She is best known for her curve, the witch of Agnesi, which appears in almost all high school and undergraduate math books. She was a child prodigy who frequented the salon circuit, discussing mathematics, philosophy, history, and music in multiple languages. She wrote one of the first vernacular textbooks on calculus and was appointed chair of mathematics at the university in Bologna. In later years, however, she became a prominent figure within the Catholic Enlightenment, gave up the academic world, and devoted herself to the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the homeless. Indeed, the life of Maria Agnesi reveals a complex and enigmatic figure—one of the most fascinating characters in the history of mathematics.
        Using newly discovered archival documents, Massimo Mazzotti reconstructs the wide spectrum of Agnesi’s social experience and examines her relationships to various traditions—religious, political, social, and mathematical. This meticulous study shows how she and her fellow Enlightenment Catholics modified tradition in an effort to reconcile aspects of modern philosophy and science with traditional morality and theology.
        Mazzotti’s original and provocative investigation is also the first targeted study of the Catholic Enlightenment and its influence on modern science. He argues that Agnesi’s life is the perfect lens through which we can gain a greater understanding of mid-eighteenth-century cultural trends in continental Europe.”
        As to the bishops, I doubt I’ll persuade you in a combox. My brief take is that some of them are perhaps misogynists (given the shameful prevalence of misogyny among men I’d be surprised if none of them were), most are probably just decent fellows doing their best who have no more or less personal awfulness than the rest of us regular folks. Jesus and Mary are without sin; the rest of us, hierarchy and all, are a sorry lot as often as not.
        As to the pronouncements and policies, I think that there are two differences of worldview at work:
        1. The bishops don’t see themselves as pronouncing policies on, e.g., women’s ordination, contraception, and abortion any more than Newton saw himself pronouncing policies on planetary orbits. Both saw themselves as just letting people know how God’s world works: a physicist telling a woman not to jump off a cliff isn’t making up the law of gravity to be misogynistic and thwart her free spirit; the law of gravity is an unchanged fact about the way reality actually is, and women (and men) are better able to live their lives if informed about it. The bishops reason (correctly, I think) that they bear the same relationship to the Natural (i.e., moral) Law and the revealed will of God as Newton to gravity, and make public service announcements accordingly, lest we fall off some cliff of vice into Hell.
        2. As to the specifics of so-called “women’s issues,” (which name I’ve always thought I’d find condescending if I was a woman, as if I didn’t care about economics or foreign policy or whatever) I think the bishops reason (correctly, IMHO) that the sexual morality they report to us from nature and nature’s God is the ethic most conducive to female flourishing. It’s rather like this: I was watching Obama defend the HHS contraceptive-insurance mandate in the debate last night. He was really on fire for it. I think of it as an intrusion on religious liberty, and a subsidy to lifestyles that do women and men no lasting emotional good. Obama sincerely (it was clear to me last night) disagrees, and views himself as a righteous defender of women’s liberty. He’s not misogynistic or power-hungry, he just sincerely disagrees with me about what’s best. I think the bishops are like that: they disagree with you about what’s best for women and men as children of God, but not out of misogyny, but rather out of a sincere difference in worldview.
        I hope that’s an “irenic” enough response to merit my monicker, and that it’s helpful.

  • I have such a crush on Thomasina’s mind. Oh my goodness.

  • Arizona Mike

    “Show me a catholic scholarship for girls to study science in college.

    Clare Booth Luce Scholarship:
    Scholarship for female undergraduate or graduate students pursuing studies in Science, Engineering or Mathematics. Preference is given to students attending a Roman Catholic colleges or universities in the U.S.

    “Show me a bishop who uses church funds for a domestic violence shelter, or microcredit loans, or even one who condemns the idea that women should have a domestic focus. ”

    DIGNITY, a Catholic Charities program under the Diocese of Phoenix (led by Bishop Thomas J, Olmsted) that provides outreach, counseling, shelter, and social services to victims of commercial sexual trafficking. Street outreach program based in the county jail that focuses on breaking the cycle of incarceration due to prostitution. Highly structured, long term residential program focused on building self-esteem and self-sufficiency provides the physical and psychological distance necessary for women to interrupt the cycle of dependence, substance abuse and incarceration due to prostitution. Wonderful people who devote their lives to the abolition of the enslavement of children and adults through commercial sexual slavery and trafficking, as did earlier bishops such as St. Patrick, St. Augustine, and St. Nicholas. If you’d like to make a donation or volunteer, here is their website: http://www.catholiccharitiesaz.org/ServicesForThoseInNeed/SexTrafficking.aspx

    Other Catholic domestic shelters in Phoenix? How about My Sister’s Place: “My Sisters’ Place was founded in 1985. We are one of only two confidential domestic violence shelters in the East Valley and we only place one family per room, providing a more private and comforting environment for their safety and recovery.

    But we go beyond shelter to empower women through education and self-determined services, helping them work towards an independent life free from abuse. We provide safety planning, case management and skill/resource building to empower them to advocate for themselves and truly make a permanent change to their situation.

    In addition, we have a dedicated childhood case worker and provide therapeutic children’s programming, including art and pet therapy. We also assist with after care planning, employment, information and referral to transitional programs, low-income or marketing-rate housing, and furniture, food and other items.

    My Sisters’ Place provided more than 8,181 nights of safety for 274 women and their children last year.”

    To donate or volunteer: http://www.catholiccharitiesaz.org/ServicesForThoseInNeed/DomesticViolence/MySistersPlace.aspx

    The Diocesan Pathways Program “helps women and their children who have a safe place to stay and do not need shelter, but still need support and transition services. These include safety planning, counseling, court accompaniment, life skills education and more.”

    More info: http://www.catholiccharitiesaz.org/ServicesForThoseInNeed/DomesticViolence/Pathways.aspx

    Use of Catholic funds for Microcredit loans for women:

    Since 1988, Catholic Relief Services’ microfinance program has been reaching the world’s poorest communities with access to financial services that are sustainable over time. CRS microfinance activities are deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, which promotes the sacredness and dignity of the human person.

    CRS’ microfinance program is committed to serving the very poor, especially women and vulnerable populations in remote rural communities. CRS’ programs target the self-employed poor who have little or no access to formal credit or savings services. Studies indicate that women are more likely to use their loans and profits to benefit their families by investing in their businesses and using additional income to meet household needs such as purchasing more and better quality food, improving family housing and health care, paying children’s school fees, and saving for emergencies. Ironically, women are often the poorest members of their communities and control the fewest resources, even in societies where small businesses are traditionally the women’s domain. Therefore, CRS’ microfinance programs are designed to strategically target women in an effort to uplift entire families and communities.

    Who Benefits From Microfinance?
    Currently, our microfinance programs reach more than 1 million clients (69.9 percent women) in 36 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean.


    If you would like to donate to this program, Karen, you can go here: https://secure.crs.org/site/Donation2?1080.donation=form1&df_id=1080&JServSessionIdr004=4muvqkf7q3.app246b