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Eleanor Mollie Horadam (1921–2002)

by Kathy Horadam

Mollie Horadam, n.d.

Mollie Horadam, n.d.

image supplied by family

Eleanor Mollie Horadam née Spedding, mathematician, was born on 29 June 1921 in Dewsbury in Yorkshire, England, UK, to pharmacist and schoolteacher parents. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia in 1996 and died on 5 May 2002 in Armidale.

Her father, a pharmacist, died when she was 14, and her suffragette mother supported her two girls as a teacher, instilling in them a robust feminism and self-reliance. Mollie was educated at Wheelwright Grammar School for Girls, where she was Head Girl. She was awarded an Exhibition to Girton College, Cambridge, studying the Mathematical Tripos and gaining her BA in 1942. At that time women were not allowed to receive their degrees at the public graduation ceremony.  Her BA was followed by wartime work for Rolls-Royce in the Stress Group, during which she earned an Engineering degree with First Class Honours from the University of London. At one point she wished to submit a stress problem to Mark 1, the first stored-program computer, recently constructed at the University of Manchester. On hearing the computation would take weeks, she realised she could prove the exact solution much faster herself.

Postwar England, with its grey skies and rationing, and with promotion preference being given to less qualified men, did not meet her aspirations and adventurous spirit. In 1949 she emigrated to Australia to take up a widely advertised lectureship in mathematics and physics at UNE.

There she met Alwyn (Horrie) Horadam, a fellow mathematics lecturer, and a 50-year “marriage of true minds” ensued. She and Alwyn had three daughters; Kathy, a mathematician, Kerry and Alanna, both medical practitioners, and six grandchildren. UNE had no maternity leave policy; so, as their children were born, she convinced the university to develop one. Further aspects of Mollie’s early days, career and her life with Alwyn appear in [1, 2].

On her first sabbatical leave to Cambridge in 1956, traditions were changing, and Mollie was finally able to cross the podium and have her BA conferred in public. She attended lectures in number theory by Littlewood and, thus inspired, began research relatively late, at age 35. Within ten years, she had published over thirty papers in number theory, on generalised primes and generalised integers. This resulted in her PhD by Prior Publication from UNE in 1965 and promotion to Senior Lecturer. She wrote a textbook on mathematics for economists, a research book on algebraic number theory and supervised one PhD student.

In service to UNE and the wider community, Mollie’s motivation was that she wanted to make a difference, particularly to improve the opportunities of women or those less privileged. She was a founder of the Women Graduates' Association of the University, served on the Board of Armidale Base Hospital and had a long association with the Girl Guides, becoming District Commissioner. She was Acting Principal and Fellow of Duval College and in 1970 became the first woman Sub-Dean of a faculty (Science).

After retirement in 1982, she divided her energy between two main arenas. In the academic, she was elected to University Council and to UNE's Board of Governors. In 1995 she was honoured by being admitted as a Fellow of the University of New England. In the commercial arena, she established and ran a second-hand business “Girton Silver”, dealing in antique silver and jewellery. She travelled widely in Australia and England to obtain stock.  Then she would load her car and drive off for a week, selling to regular buyers as well as to 23 agents across NSW and Victoria.

She had a sly sense of humour, patience, warmth, intelligence, unconventionality and strength, and is remembered as an inspiring, pioneering spirit in a predominantly male profession.

[1] Horadam, K.J. (2002). Obituary: Eleanor Mollie Horadam (29 June 1921 – 5 May 2002). Austral. Math. Soc. Gaz. 29, 224–225.

[2] Lewis, G. (2008). Eleanor Mollie Horadam (1921–2002) – Mathematician and emancipated woman. In New England Lives III, eds Ryan, J.S. and Newman, M. UNE with The Armidale and District Historical Society, Armidale.

Original Publication

Citation details

Kathy Horadam, 'Horadam, Eleanor Mollie (1921–2002)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Mollie Horadam, n.d.

Mollie Horadam, n.d.

image supplied by family

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Spedding, Eleanor Mollie

29 June, 1921
Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England


5 May, 2002 (aged 80)
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia

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