First Letter





Book and Links




Dido's Problem



Smart Joe

Fuzzy Logic



Dear Authors of Mathematica Ludibunda,

I loved your book! I feel very privileged to be able to say that I dedicated the first 16 years of my life entirely to studying it. Of course I didn't exactly choose to be locked into a tower, but I'm very glad I found Mathematica Ludibunda up there, and not Knigge's book on how to behave or any other boring book.

Anyway, I'm sure you've heard my story by now, at least the way the Grimm brothers wrote it. The story they wrote doesn't have very much to do with my real life, and your great book played an important role, ensuring that my fate didn't turn out like they said.

Well, the first part the Grimm brothers got right. A wicked old witch did carry me away to a high tower and she did climb up my hair to bring food and water. From that point on, I fear, they messed up quite a bit.

According to the Grimm brothers I let some prince climb up my hair. They said that I asked him to bring me a thread of silk every time he came, so that I could tie all the threads together to build a ladder. I believe that even for somebody who hasn't read Mathematica Ludibunda it should be perfectly obvious that hair which reaches the ground from the top of the tower, will also reach the top of the tower from the ground. So even if I would have let a prince up into the tower, I would never have asked him for threads of silk. I mean, who wants to waste his days knotting silk threads together when there's important stuff to be learned and a much easier way to escape.

The first time I read the Grimm's version I was quite shocked, but after having looked around a bit I soon found a reason why my story may have been so terribly misshaped. A lot of other girls' stories have been ruined just like mine. I mean, their version of Cinderella is hardly recognizable either! But the Grimm Brothers weren't the only ones by far to meddle up our stories.

Looking at other women's stories is kind of sad but fascinating. One of the first interesting things I noted while having a closer look at them is that under Roman rule a woman had two choices when marrying. She could either keep her name, rights, and wealth, or she could get handed over from her father to her husband. Here she didn't have any control over her life. Thanks to the first possibility, women of rich families could live a fairly free life and even spend their time studying mathematics and philosophy.

Around 400 AD, Christianity took over as the most important religion in Europe and the first monasteries for unmarried and widowed women were founded. Since you had to pay to get accepted, it was only a possibility for wealthy women. Soon, preaching became the most important women's job besides the traditional healing. Many women took their chance and started traveling around the country, spreading the new belief. There even was a female Pope. Unfortunately, most of her traces, like those of most influential women, were wiped out.

As soon as the new faith had established itself, women were step by step prohibited to travel, to preach and to marry priests. So they no longer had any influence on the church or the development of Christianity.

During the 12th century, the church, now completely controlled by males, abolished the marriage option in which both partners were equal. From then on, a married woman was the full property of her husband. This stupid arrangement has stayed with us almost until this day. Have you heard about the Russian mathematician Sophia Kowalewskaja? As a woman she couldn't have her own passport and because her father didn't allow her to go to Europe to study, she had to get married just to get out of the country. She had a real interesting life, one certainly worth reading about.

It took a long time until women had equal rights and had the same chance to study mathematics as their male colleagues. Two years after the "Rights of Man and Citizen" were declared during the French Revolution in 1789, Olympe de Gouge proposed a new declaration where women were included. Just because of that she got her head chopped off!

Towards the end of the 19th century, some countries admitted women to lectures at universities if they got special permission, but they still had a very hard time to carry through their studies.

In Germany, it was not until 1908 that women had free access to universities. In 1918 they got the right to vote, two years later, US women got that privilege. Swiss women had to wait till 1972...

Well, considering the history of women, the Grimm brothers probably just changed my story to be more in the spirit of their time.

Anyway, I'm sure glad that you wrote Mathematica Ludibunda and I hope it will give many more girls and boys a chance to study mathematics. And if you ever revise your book, may I suggest that you add some of these women's stories? It is really important for everyone to be aware of women's history (look, half of the population is female!) and I think they would fit perfectly into your great book.

Sincerely, Rapunzel

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