To Miss Whitbread from Her Friend & Admirer: A Regency-Era Trigonometry Presentation

Today we continue our series of Ada Lovelace Day posts with this superb Regency-Era book on trigonometry that was finely bound and inscribed from the author to a young woman named Elizabeth Whitbread in 1810.

Author Thomas Keith (1759-1834) was a mathematician and educator who became Professor of Geography to Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1810. Among his many publications were works on practical geometry, navigation, arithmetic, astronomy, and the use of globes. 

The recipient of this volume was probably Elizabeth Waldegrave (1791-1843), the elder daughter of the politician Samuel Whitbread II (heir to the brewing fortune) and wife of the Earl of Waldegrave. Whitbread was a radical reformer, abolitionist, and proponent of a national education system, so it is safe to assume that Elizabeth was very highly educated, almost certainly beyond what was considered normal for young women of her station. 

Keith was probably a family friend and may also have been her tutor, and it is likely that he first met the Whitbreads as part of the milieu around Princess Charlotte. Elizabeth's mother and father were close confidantes and political allies of the Princess at a time when it was controversial (her mother Queen Caroline having been expelled from court), and all three members of the family appear regularly in Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury's tell-all diary of court life.

However they met, it is clear from the warm inscription and lavish, personalised binding that this was an important presentation. Of course, books were often presented to friends and patrons who had no direct connection with the contents, but this unusual and intriguing example raises the possibility that Elizabeth Whitbread enjoyed mathematics and shared a friendship with Keith based on mutual academic interests.

  • For more details or to purchase this book, please visit its page in our online shop.
  • See our previous post on a prize book awarded to a Victorian woman taking experimental physics.
  • Check out the website Finding Ada for more on Ada Lovelace Day and women in STEM, and follow the hashtags #AdaLovelaceDay and #ALD16 for this year's news and events.
  • You may also be interested in our other rare books related to women in the sciences.

Laura Massey
Laura Massey

Author

Alembic founder Laura Massey holds a bachelor's degree in the history of science from Georgia Tech and a master's in book history (focusing on medieval and early modern scientific and medical books,) from the Institute of English Studies at the University of London. She has worked as a cataloguer, bookseller, and blogger in libraries and bookshops in the United States and Britain.



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