Jessy Randall: Women in Math and Science



Photography by Adrien Broom

Émilie du Châtelet (1706-1749)

I’m pregnant again, trying
to finish my book. To save time,
I stop lifting the pen between words.
I’m up until five in the morning.
I keep awake by plunging
my arms into icy water.
I have only a few months left. 

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)

“My” comet.
“My” observatory, built for me.
“My” moon crater.
I’ll lay claim. I’ll take them all.
Most of all, “my” students. If they
belong to me, let me let them
stay up late. Curse your curfews,
Vassar. We can’t study stars
in the daylight.
These students are mine,
and the night is ours.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)

Once upon a time,
the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries,
in the shadow of the Church
of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe,
admitted a woman to their ranks
because their charter
accidentally neglected
to exclude me.

Seven of us took the medical exam –
six men and I. Three of us passed.
Mine was the best score.

Soon after, the Society emended its charter.
So first was last, and last was first,
and cursed was blessed,
and blessed was cursed.

Alice Eastwood (1859-1953)

It wasn’t the earthquake that wrecked my life.
I still consider the earth my friend,
the home of everything I love.
Dirt’s where seeds grow. No,
it was the fire afterward.
It burned the plants, the Academy,
my work, my purpose. I had to run.
For seven years I stayed away,
regaining strength and skill. Then I returned
and rebuilt the collection. Re-found
all that had been lost, and more.
I won’t say I’m grateful for the quake,
or that the fire had a silver lining,
like a cloud. But I will say that I am proud.
We didn’t give up. We brought it all back.

Agnes Arber (1879-1960)

Over time, the plants looked less
like themselves. The first illustrator
drew from life. Everyone after
drew from the previous drawing.

In this same way, knowledge fades.
That’s why I like to work alone.
That’s why I like to work at home.
I won’t repeat what others have done.

Plants have life histories, you know.
You can’t just look at pictures. Go
to the field and use your eyes. Watch
where and when and why they grow.

At the end of my life I got a bit weird.
But I’m allowed. The Mind and the Eye
explains it well. All copies die.
Even my husband, even my child.

Mary Ellen Rudin (1924-2013)

It’s good I married another mathematician.
Someone on my level.
Someone who’d understand.

We lived in a house shaped
like a multiplication table.
The square on the diagonal.

Our house, a compact topological space.
A continuous image of total order.
A monotonically normal space.

A house designed by a man with three names.
A house only we could get.
A set of calculations resulting in a finite set.

Charlotte Angas Scott (1858-1931)

When I was at college for mathematics
I attended Cambridge lectures

from behind a screen, of course.
So the male students couldn’t see me.

(I might have distracted them.)

And so I had to picture all the numbers
in my head. I had no view of the board.

Maybe the strain of all that imagining
is why I tied for 8th place on the exam.

Being female, I was not allowed
to attend the ceremony.
Nor could my name be read aloud.

But when the list got to 8th place
the men called out SCOTT
and cheered, and waved their hats.

Or so I’m told.
I wasn’t there.

Jessy Randall’s Women in Math and Science Poetry Project at Colorado College

Adrien Broom art feature at EIL

Jessy Randall at EIL

“Mary Anning (1799-1847)” at EIL in Dog Days feature

“Honor Fell” in Work Poems, Labor Day 2019 feature at EIL

Review of Jessy Randall’s Suicide Hotline Hold Music at EIL