Carol Wood on Gweneth Humphreys

“She empowered all of us.”

After a lifetime of hearing “girls cannot do mathematics”, Gweneth Humphreys was dead set on proving everyone wrong. At only 23 years old she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics, yet still had no job prospects. Her male peers were given post-doc and research positions, but only teaching positi1ons were open to women at the time. Gwen spent her career teaching at Randolph-Macon college (now Randolph College) to stay in the world of mathematics. She devoted her life to empowering young women with a passion for mathematics, among them, mathematician Carol Wood. Watch as Carol pays homage to the first female mathematician she met who, she says, “made it real.”

Our storytellers share these astonishing women with us conversationally and unscripted; we fact-check afterwards and note any major discrepancies for accuracy.


Carol Wood

Carol S. Wood works in model theory and its connections to algebra and combinatorics. She was born in Pennington Gap, Virginia, and is proud to be a hillbilly. She attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg Virginia (now Randolph College), graduating summa cum laude with honors in mathematics. She received a PhD in mathematics at Yale in 1971 under the supervision of Abraham Robinson. Her academic career has been based entirely at Wesleyan University, where she advised four PhD students and served in various leadership positions. She is now retired, as the Edward Burr van Vleck Professor of Mathematics Emerita.

For over 25 years she has been engaged in the mathematics community in a variety of roles, including president of the Association for Women in Mathematics, program officer in the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation, deputy director at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, Board member of Mathematical Sciences Publishers and Trustee of the American Mathematical Society. She is an Inaugural Fellow of both the AMS and AWM. Together with other former students and colleagues of her undergraduate advisor, Carol created AWM’s M. Gweneth Humphreys Award to recognize outstanding mentoring of undergraduate women in mathematics.

Featured Woman

Gweneth Humphreys

A native of British Columbia, Humphreys graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1932. After receiving her master’s degree in 1933 from Smith College, she earned a PhD in mathematics in 1935 from the University of Chicago under the direction of Leonard E. Dickson (18741954). Her dissertation was titled “On the Waring Problem with Polynomial Summands,” and it was published in the Duke Mathematical Journal (vol. 1, no. 3).

In the period 1920-35, the University of Chicago had a total of 26 women PhD’s in mathematics, including Humphreys, Mina Rees (1931), Frances Baker (1932), Anna Newton (1933), and Marie Litzinger (1934). Humphreys taught for 13 years at H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (New Orleans), the women’s college associated with Tulane University.

In 1949, she joined the mathematics faculty of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (Lynchburg, Virginia), now named Randolph College. Humphreys retired from Randolph-Macon in 1980, having been chairman of its mathematics department for 29 years.