Sue Young Histories

Alicia Boole Stott 1860 - 1940

July 10, 2008

Alicia Boole Stott 1860 – 1940 was the third daughter of Mary Everest Boole and George Boole and the granddaughter of homeopath Thomas Roupell Everest.

Alice is best known for coining the term ”polytope” to refer to a convex solid in four dimensions, and having an impressive grasp of four-dimensional geometry from a very early age.

Despite the fact that Mary Everest Boole was seventeen years younger than George Boole, they had a good and happy marriage. Over the next nine years, Mary Everest Boole and George Boole had five daughters called Mary, Margaret, Alice, Lucy Everest Boole and Ethel.

However, this happiness it would soon fade. Tragically, George Boole contracted pneumonia and died in 1864…

leaving Mary with five daughters and very little money… nonetheless, Mary educated her daughters very well in mathematics and geometry, logic and thinking for themselves.

Mary sold the Royal Society’s gold medal…. and became friendly with James Hinton who introduced her to The Cranks

James Hinton and his son Charles Howard Hinton began to teach Mary’s five daughters, inspiring Alicia into a grasp of four dimensional geometry.

Lucy Everest Boole assisted her nephew Geoffrey Ingram Taylor in his work, and she collaborated with Wyndham Rowland Dunstan. Geoffrey Ingram Taylor reported how much influence his home life had, meaning ‘much more to me than anything I did at school‘, and that Alicia and her four sisters Mary, Margaret, Lucy Everest Boole and Ethel were often in attendance, as was their mother Mary Everest Boole (George Boole had died when the children were quite young), who ‘all contributed to the family influences‘.

Alicia found that there were exactly six regular polytopes in four dimensions and that they are bounded by 5, 16 or 600 tetrahedra, 8 cubes, 24 octahedra or 120 dodecahedra. She then produced three-dimensional central cross-sections of all the six regular polytopes by purely Euclidean constructions and synthetic methods for the simple reason that she had never learned any analytic geometry. She made beautiful cardboard models of all these sections.

After taking up secretarial work near Liverpool in 1889 she met and married Walter Stott in 1890. Stott learned of Pieter Schoute’s work on central sections of the regular polytopes in 1895 and Alicia Stott sent him photographs of her cardboard models. Pieter Schoute came to England and worked with Alicia Stott, persuading her to publish her results which she did in two papers published in Amsterdam in 1900 and 1910.

The University of Groningen honoured her by inviting her to attend the tercentenary celebrations of the university and awarding her an honorary doctorate in 1914.

In 1930 she was introduced to Coxeter and they worked together on various problems. Alicia Stott made two further important discoveries relating to constructions for polyhedra related to the golden section. Coxeter described his time doing joint work with her saying:

_The strength and simplicity of her character combined with the diversity of her interests to make her an inspiring friend._ Her nephew was the fluid dynamicist, []([Geoffrey Ingram Taylor](/archives/2009/05/29/geoffrey-ingram-taylor-1886-%E2%80%93-1975/).

Alicia wrote A New Era of Thought with Charles Howard Hinton and H. John Falk, On Certain Series of Sections of the Regular Four-dimensional Hypersolids, Geometrical Deduction of Semiregular from Regular Polytopes and Space Fillings, On the Sections of a Block of Eight Cells by a Space Rotating about a Plane.


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