Mathematics for Girls” is part exploration of why girls should learn mathematics and part advertisement for The Daughter at School, by John Todd. Todd’s book, published in 1853, has advice on studying (“Make up your mind that study is hard work. … Go over your lesson again and again. … Resolve to understand every lesson as far as you go. … Study any thing that is assigned to you cheerfully.”) and explorations of why certain subjects are important for girls to study. Mathematics sharpens the mind and allows girls to be useful to their fathers by balancing their accounts; composition is important because it “disciplines the mind” and because letter-writing is where women’s talents shine: “Men are, or think they are, too much hurried to write letters …. Daughters are those upon whom parents depend for long, full, and hopeful letters; and in every situation of life, she who can write a good letter confers many blessings upon others.” (Todd is, however, less sanguine about female abilities with regard to higher mathematics, informing female readers of Woman’s Rights that “You cannot compete with men in a long course of mental labor. Your delicate organization never has and never can bear the study by which you can become Newtons, La Places, or Bowditches in mathematics or astronomy.”)

Mrs. J. H. Hanaford wrote pieces for children and adults, in The Student and elsewhere.
“Mathematics for Girls,” by Mrs. J. H. Hanaford (from The Student, January 1854; pp. 49-50)

“There comes Sarah, with her slate and arithmetic,” said Charles Hadley to his mother. “Now I suppose there will be no peace for us till she has worried through with her lesson.”

“Ought you not to help her, Charles?”

“Well, yes—perhaps I will, if she is not unusually cross about it.”

With a wise mother’s tact, Mrs. Hadley met Sarah at the front door of the house, and exclaimed before she could speak of her arithmetical troubles, “Sarah, your father has sent you a new book, which he hopes will encourage you in your studies. He writes that he knows you have some that seem hard, but he hopes you will be patient through them all.”

This timely speech changed the current of Sarah’s thoughts, and she ran joyously into the parlor, exclaiming, “Charles, did you know that father had sent me a present?”

Charles was surprised at words so different from what he expected, but as she laid her slate and book on the table, he thought to himself, “Well, the trial time will come by and by.”

p. 50

The book was soon placed in Sarah’s hands. It was a copy of the “Daughter at School,” by Rev. Dr. Todd, and she found many chapters in it which were very interesting to her as a school-girl. After supper, Mrs. Hadley called Sarah to her, and said, “There is a passage in your new book which I should like to have you read aloud.”

Having shown her the place, Sarah read aloud the following extract: “Young ladies who are brought up in good society will have abundant opportunities to improve their taste and to cultivate and refine their manners. But if they neglect to strengthen the faculties of the mind at school, they can never do it. To do this, they can use mental arithmetic. Scarcely any exercise can be more valuable than the practice which enables you to carry accurately long processes of addition or multiplication in the head.

“And we must confess that we take great delight in hearing a young lady recite well in algebra and in Euclid; and if they could and would go on to the higher mathematics, we should be still more pleased. For there is no study, which, on the whole, is so good to strengthen the mind as mathematics.

“In studying Latin or Greek, you acquire a discriminating power over language, and learn what is the force, position, and strength of words. In mental philosophy you learn how the mind works; but to teach it to work, and how to work hard, give us mathematics.”

“Now, daughter,” added Mrs. Hadley, as Sarah paused, “you see that the author of this book, with which you are so pleased, agrees with your father and myself in thinking that it is best for you to persevere, and study mathematics.”

“Oh, mother!” was the reply, “I have often felt that you were right, but I could not easily undersand my lessons, and that made me fretful.”

“Come here,” said Charles, “with your lesson, and I will help you to-night, because you have not fretted and scolded about it.”

Sarah cheerfully complied, and Charles found, by a little patient examination on his part, that the reason why Sarah found her lessons now so hard, was that she had passed over some portions of her arithmetic without understanding it, and it was to her like losing a link of a chain, or a path in a labyrinth.

“Oh, I was absent when the class studied there, Charles!” exclaimed Sarah.

“Well, if you will be studious, I will explain alll that to you before I return to college, and then you will go on much more easily.”

Sarah found his words were correct, and so profited by his kind instructions, and persevered in heeding her parent’s advice, that mathematical pursuits became a positive pleasure to her, as well as proved, in after life, of inestimable worth.

We recommend our female readers to advance as far in mathematics as their circumstances allow, assuring them that their mental gain will more than compensate for their labor and study.

Copyright 1999-2019, Pat Pflieger
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