Sophie Bryant was born on this day in 1850, into a time when women did not receive much education or have too many professional options. She was lucky enough to be largely home-schooled by her father who was a math professor at the University of London, and by private governesses that he hired. She became fluent in many languages and fell in love with math and science. She was an exceptionally strong student.
When Sophie was widowed at an early age, she was offered a teaching position at a school for girls. She also continued her own education and when the University of London finally opened up their degrees to women, she became one of the first ever to hold a doctorates in science and math, obtaining high honors in “Mental and Moral Science.” Later when Trinity College in Dublin followed suit and made degree programs available to women, she was one of the first to obtain an honorary degree there as well.
Sophie Bryant was instrumental in opening training colleges for women and wanted to give ladies of that era more options. Sophie was one of the first women to actively participate in the London Mathematical Society and the first to publish. She was also a member of the Women’s Liberal Federation and the Hampstead Suffrage Society. Though Sophie was a staunch suffragist, she acknowledged that women needed more education before they’d be able to effectively fight for equal rights. Her favorite saying was a quote from Thomas Davis, a revolutionary poet from Cork. He said, “Educate that you might be free,” and she devoted much of her life to providing that education and freedom. It is rumored that she was one of the first ladies to own and use a bicycle – which became the favored mode of transportation for women in the years to come.
Sophie was also devoted to Home Rule for Ireland and she wrote a number of papers and books on Irish history and ancient Irish law. She went on the lecture circuit trying to convince other English people to embrace the Home Rule option. She was a devout Protestant and a prominent English educator, but she considered Ireland her home and advocated for its freedom for many years. Sophie was a member of the Irish Literary Society and the United Irish League. She protested on behalf of Irish prisoners and was dismayed at the idea of the partition of Ireland. She was strongly against the division of the country and disappointed in the actions of her fellow Protestants in the North. She predicted that partition would lead to violence and unrest and she lived long enough to see her predictions about the arbitrary border come true.
Sophie Bryant was a brilliant woman who transcended societal limitations and constantly reached for the sky. Therefore it is no surprise that one of her favorite pastimes was climbing mountains, which she began doing at the age of twelve. She was an experienced hiker who was intimately familiar with many mountains and hills, so when her body was found at the age of 72 in the Alps, many friends thought her death suspicious. But at least Sophie Bryant died the way she lived – ultimately free and doing whatever she liked.