Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 16 June 2016
Remembering 1916, The Legacy of Mary Everest
This day one hundred years ago on 16 June 1916, Cork lamented the death of Mrs George Boole – Mary Everest – who died in London (that week) at the age of 84. The story appeared in a small column within the Cork Examiner, which described the removal of “another link in the chain connecting the present of University College Cork with the past of the old Queen’s College”. One of the most illustrious names associated with the college since its foundation was that of George Boole, who for a number of years occupied a Professorial Chair in Maths. Some of his greatest publications were written whilst he held that Chair. The bi-centenary of his birth was well and rightly celebrated last year in UCC. The newly unveiled sculpture of Boole is also great to view outside the Boole Library. It is carved by Irish sculptor Paul Ferriter and engraved by Ken and Matthew Thompson.
George Boole’s widow, was likewise a talented writer and psychologist. Mary Everest Boole (1932-1916) was born in Gloucestershire where her father was a minister. She spent her early years in Poissy, France where she had a private tutor. On moving back to England at age eleven she assisted her father with his work and was largely self-taught. She was introduced to George Boole through an uncle – Colonel Sir George Everest (1790-1866) who was a Welsh surveyor and geographer, and the Surveyor General of India from 1830 through 1843.
George Everest was chiefly responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from southern India extending north to Nepal, a distance of about 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles). This survey was started by William Lambton in 1806 and it lasted for several decades. In 1865, Mount Everest was named in his honour in the English language despite his objections by the Royal Geographical Society.
On the introduction by George Everest to George Boole of his niece Mary, Boole began to tutor her in mathematics. They married and moved to Cork where George was appointed Professor of Mathematics at Queen’s College (now UCC). During nine years of marriage they had five children and then George died of pneumonia. After her husband’s death Mary moved back to England. She first worked as a librarian at Queen’s College, Harley Street in London and became an unofficial tutor to the students. From the age of fifty, Mary started writing books and articles including Logic Taught by Love in 1889, The Preparation of the Child for Science in 1904 and in 1909, Philosophy and Fun of Algebra. Her collected writings were published in 1931 and run to four volumes. Mary Boole regarded herself as an educational psychologist. She was interested in understanding how children learn mathematics and science using the reasoning part of their mind, their physical bodies and their “unconscious processes”. She advocated the use of the reflective journal and cooperative learning where students could share their ideas with one another in an environment of peer tutoring.
The Cork Examiner article makes reference to Mary’s daughters – “it is a remarkable fact that her genius has descended to her daughters, who, by the way, were all born in Cork. It is noteworthy that the late Professor Boole’s grandson has obtained the two highest prizes in mathematics at Cambridge University, and has recently been made Professor of Meteorology by the Government”. Her five daughters made their mark in a range of fields. Alicia (1860–1940) became an expert in four-dimensional geometry. Lucy (1862–1904) was a chemist and pharmacist and the first female professor at the London School of Medicine for Women in the Royal Free Hospital. She was the first female Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. Mary Ellen (b.1856) married mathematician Charles Hinton. Hinton was a British mathematician and writer of science fiction works titled Scientific Romances. He was interested in higher dimensions, particularly the fourth dimension. Margaret (1858–1935) was the mother of mathematician Geoffrey Ingram Taylor, who is referenced in the newspaper quote. George (1886 –1975) was a British physicist and mathematician, and a major figure in fluid dynamics and wave theory. In 1910 he was elected to a Fellowship at Trinity College, and the following year he was appointed to a meteorology post, becoming Reader in Dynamical Meteorology.
Ethel Lilian (1864–1960) married the Polish revolutionary Wilfrid Michael Voynich and was the author of a number of works. She is most famous for her first novel The Gadfly, first published in 1897 in the United States (June) and Britain (September), about the struggles of an international revolutionary in Italy. This novel was very popular in the Soviet Union and was the top bestseller and compulsory reading there, and was seen as ideologically useful; for similar reasons, the novel has been popular in the People’s Republic of China as well. By the time of Voynich’s death The Gadfly had sold an estimated 2,500,000 copies in the Soviet Union and had been made into two Russian movies, first in 1928 in Soviet Georgia (Krazana) and then again in 1955.
848a. Mary Everest, 1932-1916 (source: University College Cork).
848b. Ethel Lilian Voynich, 1864 –1960, née Boole (source: University College Cork).