Laughing out of math class: The Vassar mathematikado and nineteenth-century women's education

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Publication Date

Summer 2019


Pavlis Honors College


The Mathematikado, created and performed by female students in 1886, parodied Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado to argue that women could master college-level math. Responding to social critique of their participation in traditionally male fields of study, these students used humor to prove their fluency in not only scientific knowledge but also popular culture. The Mathematikado participated in a larger phenomenon of rituals to commemorate college students' fulfillment of math requirements, most of which took place at men's colleges and involved burning and/or burying textbooks. Instead of literally burning their books, Vassar students employed an extended form of parody to take their place among the ranks of college students.

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© 2019 by Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. Publisher’s version of record:

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