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A Tradition of Equality

In 1871, a friend of Swarthmore College donated a portrait of mathematician and astronomer David Rittenhouse to hang in the boys’ parlor.

President Edward Magill accepted the gift, saying that the “noble example of this self-taught mathematician should inspire our boys with renewed zeal in their mathematical studies.”

President Magill continued, “But it must be remembered that the mathematicians of Swarthmore are not all confined to one sex.” If the boys could be inspired by example, he reasoned, then the girls also needed a companion portrait of “our distinguished fellow country-woman,” astronomer Maria Mitchell of Vassar College.

It should be noted that, at this time, math was taught by Susan J. Cunningham, who served from the College’s opening in 1869 until 1902.  

Presumably, the portraits of Rittenhouse and Mitchell burned in the Parrish Hall fire in the early 1880s, but President Magill’s message lives on.