FYI April 04, 2018


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On This Day

1768 – In London, Philip Astley stages the first modern circus.

Philip Astley (8 January 1742 – 27 January 1814) was an English equestrian, circus owner, and inventor, regarded as being the “father of the modern circus”.[1][2] The circus industry, as a presenter of an integrated entertainment experience that includes music, domesticated animals, acrobats, and clowns, traces its heritage to Astley’s Amphitheatre, a riding school that Astley founded in London following the success of his invention of the circus ring in 1768.[3]

Astley rode in a circle rather than a straight line as his rivals did, and thus chanced on the format which was later named a circus.[4] He performed his stunts in a ring 42 ft in diameter, which is the size used by circuses ever since.[2] In 1770 he hired acrobats, tightrope walkers, jugglers and a clown to fill in the pauses between acts.[2]

Philip Astley was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in England the son of a cabinetmaker.[1] At the age of nine, he apprenticed with his father, but Astley’s dream was to work with horses, so he joined Colonel Eliott’s Fifteenth Light Dragoons when he was 17, later becoming a Sergeant Major. His service in the Seven Years’ War brought him into contact with professional trainers and riders. Astley himself was a brilliant rider.



Born On This Day

1868 – Philippa Fawcett, English mathematician and educator (d. 1948)

Philippa Garrett Fawcett (4 April 1868 – 10 June 1948) was an English mathematician and educationalist.

She was the daughter of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett and of Henry Fawcett MP, Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and Postmaster General in Gladstone’s government. Her aunt was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first English female doctor.

Philippa Fawcett was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge which had been co-founded by her mother. In 1890 Fawcett became the first woman to obtain the top score in the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos exams. The results were always highly publicised, with the top scorers receiving great acclaim. Her score was 13 per cent higher than the second highest score, but she did not receive the title of senior wrangler, as only men were then ranked, with women listed separately. Women had been allowed to take the Tripos since 1880, after Charlotte Angas Scott was unofficially ranked as eighth wrangler. When the women’s list was announced Fawcett was described as “above the senior wrangler”.

Coming amidst the women’s suffrage movement, Fawcett’s feat gathered worldwide media coverage, spurring much discussion about women’s capacities and rights. The lead story in the Telegraph the following day said:
“ Once again has woman demonstrated her superiority in the face of an incredulous and somewhat unsympathetic world… And now the last trench has been carried by Amazonian assault, and the whole citadel of learning lies open and defenceless before the victorious students of Newnham and Girton. There is no longer any field of learning in which the lady student does not excel.[1]

Following Fawcett’s achievement in the Mathematical Tripos, she won the Marion Kennedy scholarship at Cambridge[2] through which she conducted research in Fluid Dynamics. Her published papers include “Note on the Motion of Solids in a Liquid”.[3]

She was subsequently appointed as a College Lecturer in Mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge a position she held for 10 years.[4] In this capacity, her teaching abilities received considerable praise. One student wrote:
“ What I remember most vividly of Miss Fawcett’s coaching was her concentration, speed, and infectious delight in what she was teaching. She was ruthless towards mistakes and carelessness… My deepest debt to her is a sense of the unity of all truth, from the smallest detail to the highest that we know[5] ”

Fawcett left Cambridge in 1902, when she was appointed as a lecturer to train mathematics teachers at the Normal School, Johannesburg, South Africa.[6] Here, she remained until 1905, setting up schools in South Africa. She then returned to England to take a position in the administration of education for London County Council. Here, in her work developing secondary schools, she attained a high rank on the London County Council.

Philippa Fawcett maintained strong links with Newnham College throughout her life. The Fawcett building (1938) was named in recognition of her contribution to Newnham, and that of her family. She died on 10 June 1948, two months after her 80th birthday, just one month after the Grace that allowed women to be awarded the Cambridge BA degree received royal assent.[7]

See also
Sarah Woodhead, the first woman to pass the Tripos



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