Patricia Auspos

Published On


Page Range

pp. 93–174


  • English

Print Length

82 pages

2. A “Two Person Career”

Grace Chisholm Young and William Henry Young

  • Patricia Auspos (author)
The marital ideal that made it difficult for Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1944) to maintain an independent professional life was that of the "helpmate wife” who advanced her husband’s career. A graduate of Girton College and the first woman to defend a thesis and earn a doctorate in mathematics in Germany, Grace Chisholm was a mathematician in her own right when she married her former college tutor, William Henry Young (1863-1942), in 1896.
After they moved to Europe with their infant son, Will encouraged Grace to fulfill her longstanding desire to study medicine, instead of continuing to work with him on pure mathematics. She remained in Germany with their two children while he divided his time between Germany and teaching jobs in Britain. Soon Grace was doing mathematics with Will as well as medicine, and also caring for their growing family (four more children were born between 1901 and 1908).
Their partnership, which never fully acknowledged her contribution, established Will as a highly creative mathematician in the early 1900s. Over the next two decades, the Youngs produced several books and over two hundred articles, but Will took public credit for their joint work. Grace willingly assumed the role of junior, mostly anonymous, and distinctly subordinate partner in the Youngs’ collaboration. Her role in their professional partnership mirrored her role in their domestic partnership, and reflected their assessment of their respective talents: he was a late-blooming genius while she was merely talented. They agreed that helping him was more important than anything she could do on her own.
Nevertheless, Grace refused to give up her medical training -- an aspect of her life that has not been adequately explored until now. Will encouraged her interest in medicine, but simultaneously pressured her to devote more time to helping him with mathematics. Grace never became a licensed doctor, but she eventually completed all the required coursework, despite the seemingly impossible demands on her time. She also published two children’s books about science, penned stories for her own children, wrote poetry, and authored an historical novel about Elizabethan England that was never published.
When Will was teaching in India from 1914 to 1916, Grace wrote a series of papers under her own name that established her independent reputation in pure mathematics. Although she found it increasingly difficult to be Will’s self-sacrificing helpmate, especially after he retired, she continued to cultivate her image as a devoted, helpmate wife who advanced her husband’s career. But she silently rebelled, and her notebooks, pocket diaries, and the poetry she wrote in the 1930s record her disillusionment and suppressed anger.


Patricia Auspos


A graduate of Barnard College, Patricia Auspos earned a Ph.D. in Modern British History from Columbia University and taught at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She researched and wrote about social policy issues and programs as a staff member at MDRC and the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, and as an independent consultant. Breaking Conventions is her first book. She lives in Jackson Heights, New York City.