Person: Lee, Alice Elizabeth
Alice Lee was awarded a D.Sc. in 1899, and had an outstanding career as a statistician working in both Bedford College and University College in London. Her work was important in disproving the belief that skull size was related to intelligence, the argument that was being used at that time to "prove" women were intellectually inferior to men.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- In 1876 Lee became a student at Bedford College, London.
- In 1874, just before Lee began her studies there, the College moved from its first site in Bedford Square to two houses in York Place, close to Baker Street, in Marylebone.
- At first Harding, like all his predecessors, did not teach mathematics to degree level but in 1879-80 Lee attended the first higher mathematics classes that Bedford College had just started up due to increased demand.
- At the time of the 1881 census Lee was living at 9 York Place, one of the two Bedford College houses, where she was one of fifteen undergraduate girls in the house.
- At this stage Bedford College did not have university status but Lee sat the University of London B.Sc. examinations in 1884, becoming the first Bedford student to be awarded this degree.
- Lee, however, was not only interested in science and, in 1885, she sat the University of London B.A. examinations and was awarded an arts degree.
- After graduating with her two degrees, Lee was appointed as an assistant lecturer in mathematics and physics at Bedford College.
- In addition to teaching mathematics and physics, Lee also tutored students in Greek and Latin.
- Although he did not name Lee, she was the only person to fit Pearson's description and she took it upon herself to respond writing a letter to Pearson defending the academic standards of the College.
- Pearson was impressed by Lee's response and encouraged her to further her studies.
- Lee continued to teach mathematics and physics at Bedford College, holding a lectureship in mathematics and physics until 1916, but from 1895 she began to contribute to Pearson's research team.
- The authors are given as Karl Pearson, F.R.S., University College, with the assistance of Miss Alice Lee, Bedford College, London.
- If Lee could show that there was no correlation between size of skull and intellectual ability, she would take away one of the strongest arguments used to "prove" men were cleverer than women.
- The first problem that Lee had to face was the size of a skull.
- Where did Lee get her data from?
- The data was published in the Journal of Anatomy and used by Lee in the formulas she had developed.
- Lee submitted her thesis to the University of London for the degree of D.Sc. in March 1899 and examiners were appointed including the mathematician Joseph Larmor, the social scientist E B Hobson and anatomist Sir William Turner.
- He should have been pleased with Lee's conclusion that skull size did not correlate with intellectual ability but instead he seemed annoyed.
- Larmor claimed that the thesis must be mostly Pearson's work and not Lee's, despite the fact that Pearson stated clearly that it was not.
- A revised version of Lee's thesis was submitted to the Royal Society on 13 July 1900 and read on 15 November 1900.
- After its presentation Miss Lee asked me to criticise and revise it with a view to publication.
- When Miss Lee started her work practically nothing had been published on the correlation of the parts of the skull; since then an interesting paper has appeared by Dr Franz Boas.
- Lee continued to be an author on papers with several authors such as On the Correlation of the Mental and Physical Characters in Man.
- Until 1907 Lee continued to work for Karl Pearson and to lecture at Bedford College.
- So bad indeed that Dr Alice Lee has resigned, which will be a great loss to me, although she had recently been a little difficult to work with.
- Despite resigning, Lee continued to occasionally work at the Eugenics Laboratory and to publish joint papers such as On the Correlation of Death-Rates (1910) and On the distributions of the correlation coefficient in small samples.
Born 28 June 1858, Dedham, Essex, England. Died 5 October 1939, Rustington, Sussex, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Origin England, Women
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive