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King George III (1760-1820) to Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
The Ladies’ Diary (1) : A long-lived annual of riddles, rhymes and really hard maths aimed specifically at Georgian Britain’s hidden public of clever women.
The Ladies’ Diary
Part one

With acknowledgements to studies by Teri Perl (Historia Mathematica 6:1 [1979]) and Joe Albree and Scott H. Brown (Historia Mathematica 36:1 [2009]).

The 18th century was deluged with popular magazines, almanacks and annuals filled with tidbits, extracts and riddling rhymes, but few could rival John Tipper’s “Ladies’ Diary” for longevity or circulation – or for sheer hard maths.

THE Ladies’ Diary, published annually in London from 1704 to 1841, featured a prominent woman of society on the front cover, and offered within an almanack of useful dates, astronomical events, rhyming riddles and readers’ queries, such as

“I should be glad to know, what is the composition of the India rubber; and how and where it is made”,

to which fellow-readers provided an answer in the next issue.

Many submissions were riddling verses variously dubbed an Enigma or a Rebus, artfully contrived to provide a clue to a key word or name. Answers were often in equally ingenious verse; some were in Latin.

Early editions had included recipes, medical advice and fiction, but by 1720 genuinely challenging problems in algebra, geometry and even calculus dominated.* It was these erudite brainteasers that gave the Diary its enviable reputation, and attracted editors and regular contributors from quite ordinary backgrounds, and often with little formal education, but evident expertise.

* A sample issue can be found online at The Ladies’ Diary Or Woman's Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1787. In 1817, editor Thomas Leybourn published a round-up of mathematical problems (and their solutions) in four volumes: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4. The last of these includes an index of contributors. Note that Reuben Burrows’s “Ladies’ and Gentleman’s Diary, or Royal Almanack” was a short-lived competitor.

With acknowledgements to studies by Teri Perl (Historia Mathematica 6:1 [1979]) and Joe Albree and Scott H. Brown (Historia Mathematica 36:1 [2009]).

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Discovery and Invention (66) Science and Scientists (18) Enterprise in Education (8) Georgian Era (111) History (405)

Picture: Engraving by William Nutter, based on a miniature by Samuel Shelley. From the National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons. View original
Margaret Bryan was a private schoolmistress and the mother of two daughters (pictured), who in 1797 published a collection of scientific lectures under the title ‘A Compendious System of Astronomy’. One of those impressed by them was Charles Hutton, a former Tyneside miner who was now a lecturer in mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a winner of the prestigious Copley Medal, and editor of ‘The Ladies’ Diary’ from 1773 to 1817.

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