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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

First female actuary

By focusing on the UK, your excellenteditorial (September 2007)may have missed some of the earliestcontributions to the professionfrom the fairer sex.

The honour of being the firstfemale actuary is usually ascribedto Lucy Jane Wright, who wasmade actuary of Union MutualLife in Boston on 2 May 1866.Sadly she only lasted in post forseven months and died of tuberculosisa few months later on 26May 1867. Lucy Jane was one ofthe children of Elizur Wright, wholearnt about the profession duringa visit to London in 1844 andbecame one of America’s first actuaries.Lucy learnt her actuarialskills from her father over severalyears prior to taking up the post atUnion Mutual. Elizur continuedin actuarial roles until his death in1885 and played a leading role inas diverse wider fields as the abolitionof slavery and the establishmentof sound insuranceregulation in Massachusetts (the1858 insurance law).

The Actuarial Society of America(ASA) was formed in 1889. In 1895Emma Warren Cushman waselected as the first woman fellow.She was the actuary of the MassachusettsInsurance Department,having succeeded William S Smithin that position in 1894. It seemsthat the first ladies to achieve theirassociateship of the Actuarial Societyof America by examinationwere Grace A Martin of Waterloo,Ontario and Estella C King of NewYork in 1919. Henricka Beachqualified as an associate of theAmerican Institute of Actuaries in 1915. However, the Casualty ActuarialSociety showed the greatestcommitment to equality withEmma C Maycrink and DorothyRolph being admitted as Fellowsin 1915, only a year after the CASwas established. The CAS, itshould be noted, has already hadsix female presidents, includingfive of the most recent 15 presidents.

Women were first admitted tothe Institute of Actuaries in the UKafter a vote at a special generalmeeting at Staple Inn in November1919, following an appeal tothe profession to allow ladies to beadmitted in the presidentialaddress of Geoffrey Marks on 16December 1918. The proposal atthe November 1919 meeting wasthat women should be ‘admittedto the Institute on the same conditionsas men’ and was passedunanimously. As you note, thefirst woman to complete the Instituteexaminations was DorothyDavis (later Spiers), who qualifiedas FIA in 1923. The first female toqualify in the Faculty was JessieRuthven Carmichael in 1933.

Another contender for an earlyfemale proto-actuary might beAda Lovelace (1815–1851), thedaughter of Lord Byron. Adaworked with Charles Babbage onthe development of Babbage’sAnalytical Engine, the first computer.In 1842–1843, Ada translatedItalian mathematician LuigiMenadrea’s memoir on Babbage’snewest proposed machine, theAnalytical Engine. With the article,she appended a set of noteswhich specified in detail a methodfor using the engine to calculate Bernoulli numbers, recognised byhistorians as the world’s first computerprogram.