Archive of Jeffreys, Bertha Swirles, Lady, 1903-1999. Mathematician

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers cover the period 1871-2006. Although the bulk of the material has Jeffreys as creator, there are some groups where the material presented here should be consulted alongside that of her husband Sir Harold Jeffreys.

Biographical material documents Jeffreys's life from her childhood in the 1900s up to her nineties, thus encompassing almost all the twentieth century. The material includes records of school and undergraduate studies, and her continuing links with Northampton School for Girls. There are early testimonials, showing the high regard in which she was held, and her later honours and awards. There is a sequence of diaries 1975-1996. Jeffreys retained close ties with her native county of Northamptonshire and her keen interest in family and local history is recorded. Photographs show Jeffreys from childhood to shortly before her death. However, the largest single component of this section is biographical material relating to her husband Sir Harold Jeffreys (1891-1989). Jeffreys devoted much of her time after his death to writing about his life and work, assisting others with biographical accounts and helping in other ways to preserve and honour his memory.

Although not extensive Girton College Cambridge material provides some documentation of Jeffreys's service as Director of Studies for Mathematics 1949-1969, and service on the Governing Body, including her term as Vice-Mistress 1966-1969. There is some record too of the debates as to whether to admit men to the College. There is also material relating to the history of the College, including biographical and historical material relating to distinguished Fellows, and a little correspondence with Girtonians, chiefly former students.

Coverage of Jeffreys's research is patchy. However, there is good documentation of her most significant periods of research. There are a few notebooks from her period as a research student under R.H. Fowler in Cambridge in the mid-1920s but the bulk of the material is in the form of a series of labelled research folders organised by topic containing notes and drafts, calculations and offprints. A number of the items in the series are accompanied by later explanatory notes by Jeffreys. The series includes material from the winter semester of 1927-1928 spent in Gttingen, where she worked under Max Born and Werner Heisenberg; from the late 1920s relating to her research on polarization of atomic cores; work on degenerate gases in the 1930s; and on the relativistic self-consistent field from the 1930s through to the 1970s. Research material from after her marriage includes work in the 1950s on Multipole Radiation. There is only a little material illustrative of her developing interest in areas of study introduced to her by her husband, although there is additional material preserved in the archive of Sir Harold. Other miscellaneous research papers include some documentation of the work of a former student Mary Walmsley from the 1960s and early 1970s.

Publications material complements the research record, as a number of the publications documented relate to research folders. Cross-references are included where appropriate. The publications material provides greater coverage of Jeffreys's later mathematical interests, which are understated elsewhere. Documentation includes the book co-authored with her husband Harold, Methods of Mathematical Physics (Cambridge University Press) from the first edition, her introduction to the volume Coulomb wave functions by A.R. Curtis (1964) and 'The use of vectors in mechanics', Mathematical Gazette, vol 62 (1983). However, the single largest grouping of material relates to her two short notes for the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society; 'A Q-rious tale: the origin of the Parameter Q in electromagnetism', vol 26 (1985) and 'A footnote to "A Q-rious tale" ', vol 27 (1986).

Lectures material comprises both teaching and public and invitation lectures. There is material for university courses at Manchester in the 1930s and Cambridge, mainly the 1940s-1950s. It includes notes for her lectures on relativity and quantum theory. Public and invitation lectures cover an extended period. The earliest documented is a lecture on developments in quantum theory given to the Adams Society, St Johns College Cambridge, 1927 and the latest dated lecture was given at the age of 90 to the British Universities Summer School in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics, Pembroke College Cambridge, September 1993.

Only a few visits and conferences are documented. There is some fascinating memorabilia from her study visit to Georg-August Universitt, Gttingen, Germany, 1927-1928 but the bulk of the material relates to two events, a Symposium on Computer Science at Girton College Cambridge, August 1969, held as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the foundation of the College, and the 48th International Astronomical Union Symposium on 'Rotation of the Earth', held at Morioka, Japan in May 1971 to which Jeffreys accompanied her husband. Her continued interest in developments in science is illustrated by her attendance at the age of 94 at the International Centennial Symposium on the Electron, Cambridge, September 1997. There is a little material relating to the Mathematical Association covering the period 1968-1972, and therefore documenting Jeffreys's Presidency of the Mathematical Association for 1969-1970 and Vice-Presidency 1970-1972.

There is considerable documentation of Jeffreys's interests in the history of science, women in science and education more generally. There is a major sequence of material on a large number of eminent scientists, especially mathematicians, both contemporaries of hers and historical figures. There is significant material in particular on Mary Lucy Cartwright, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, John Arthur Gaunt, Douglas Rayner Hartree, Inge Lehmann and Barbara Mary Middlehurst. Jeffreys's concern for the place of women in science is partly indicated by the high proportion of individual women scientists in the previous sequence, but there is also general material on this issue, including correspondence with Joan Mason, the founder of the Association for Women in Science and Engineering, and correspondence and papers relating to the influential 1992 White Paper on Science and Technology and the resultant 1993 report The Rising Tide. Jeffreys's interests in education documented includes material relating to the teaching of mathematics in schools and the admission of men to previously all-women Colleges.

Correspondence forms the largest component of the archive. Jeffreys's correspondence was found in a number of separate sequences and parts of sequences, in individual folders, plastic bags and loose. Correspondence found together can include letters from family members, family friends, former students, scientific colleagues and fellow Girtonians. For ease of reference these various groups of correspondence and individual letters have been consolidated into series of correspondence arranged alphabetically and a chronological sequence. In addition there is a series of postcards, which Jeffreys kept separate, and references and recommendations, again kept separate. Subjects vary widely, from family and personal news, topics in the history of science and information about individual scientists, to detailed mathematical questions. Some of the correspondence is to both Sir Harold and Lady Jeffreys (initiated before Sir Harold's death in 1989) and occasionally exchanges are begun with Sir Harold alone and then continued by Lady Jeffreys. The great bulk of the correspondence is incoming with outgoing correspondence sparsely represented by rough manuscript drafts or occasionally a typescript carbon copy.The papers cover the period 1871-2006. Although the bulk of the material has Jeffreys as creator, there are some groups where the material presented here should be consulted alongside that of her husband Sir Harold Jeffreys.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bertha Swirles was born in Northampton on 22 May 1903. Like many in Northampton, her father worked in the leather trade. Her mother was a school-teacher and Swirles grew up in an environment in which it was not unusual for the women of the family to be well-educated. In 1915 Swirles went to the newly established Northampton School for Girls, becoming Head Girl, and in 1921 won a Clothworkers' Scholarship to Girton College Cambridge to read Mathematics. She graduated with first class Honours in 1924 and spent the following year studying Part II physics, attending lectures by J.J. Thomson and Rutherford. Swirles began postgraduate research under R.H. Fowler, holding a Yarrow Fellowship 1925-1927 and Hertha Ayrton Research Fellowship 1927-1928. She was awarded her PhD in 1929. It was an exciting time to be doing research in Cambridge, fellow research students of Fowler were P.A.M. Dirac and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Another research student in the Department was D.R. Hartree and he suggested her first research problem, studying the polarizability of atomic cores. Swirles's and Hartree's careers would cross a number of times and they became firm and lifelong friends. She spent the winter of 1927-1928 in Gttingen, where she worked under Max Born and Werner Heisenberg and met other leading continental workers in the new field of quantum mechanics.

In 1928 Swirles was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Manchester. Here she resumed her contact with Hartree who had also moved there. At Manchester E.A. Milne guided her into research on the absorption of radiation by a gas, working first on a highly degenerate gas then a partially degenerate one, and her work proved significant in the study of stellar structure. This was followed by similar appointments in Bristol (1931-1932) and at Imperial College London (1932-1933) before returning to Manchester in 1933 as Lecturer in Applied Mathematics. She remained at Manchester, again working with Hartree, until 1938 when she returned to Cambridge to take up a Fellowship and Lectureship in Mathematics at Girton. Hartree also returned to Cambridge in 1946, when he was appointed Plummer Professor of Mathematical Physics. Swirles remained at Girton for the rest of her career, serving as Director of Studies in Mathematics and Mechanical Sciences 1949-1969 (and Music, another interest of hers, 1939-1947). Jeffreys served on the Governing Body of the College and was Vice-Mistress 1966 to 1969. She was appointed Life Fellow of Girton in 1969.

In 1940 Swirles married the eminent scientist Harold Jeffreys. As Bertha Jeffreys she continued to publish papers on quantum theory but her collaboration with her husband led to her most widely known publication, the textbook Methods of Mathematical Physics, which they co-authored. It was first published in 1946 and went through many editions, revisions and reprints, most recently in 1999. Jeffreys's research interests broadened to include seismology in collaboration with her husband, who was appointed Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge and knighted in 1953. Theirs was a long and happy marriage until his death at the age of 97 in 1989.

Jeffreys was an influential figure in women's education in Cambridge and in mathematics. She served as President of the Mathematical Association 1969-1970 and was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications in 1968. She received honorary doctorates from the University of Saskatchewan in 1995 and the Open University in 1996. She died on 18 December 1999.


By section as follows: Biographical, Girton College Cambridge, Research, Publications, Lectures, Visits and conferences, Mathematical Association, History of science and other interests, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Contact the repository for details.

Other Finding Aids

Finding aids: Printed Catalogue: NCUACS catalogue no.152/2/07, 165pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Dr Tim Powell, January 2009

Conditions Governing Use

Contact repository for details.

Custodial History

The archive was received for cataloguing from St John's College, Cambridge in May 2002. Returned to the Old Library, St John's College, Cambridge 2007.

Related Material

The archive of Sir Harold Jeffreys was catalogued by the NCUACS in 2004 (NCUACS catalogue no.133/6/04) for St John's College Cambridge