Sophie Bryant (1850-1922)*
Sophie Bryant was born on 15 February 1850, the daughter of Dr William Willock, Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, mathematician and clergyman. In 1868 her father became Professor of Geometry at the University of London.
She never attended a school, having occasional governesses for French and German. At 16 she won the Arnott Scholarship to Bedford College, and was later placed alone in the first class at the Senior Cambridge Local Examination, obtaining distinction in mathematics. This was six years after the University of Cambridge first opened its mathematics examination to girls.
In 1869 she married a Hampshire doctor, many years her senior. A year later she was widowed.
In 1875 Miss Frances Mary Buss offered her a part-time post to teach mathematics and German at the North London Collegiate School. Here she remained, becoming Head Mistress from 1895 to 1918.
In 1881 she obtained her BSc degree, first class, and first place in mental and moral science and second place in mathematics. In 1884 she obtained the London degree of DSc in physiology, logic and ethics, the first woman to do so. She was later an active member of Convocation and of the Senate of the University, served on the Council of the London Day Training College and as a manager of the Goldsmiths’ Training College. In 1904 the University of Dublin conferred on her the honorary degree of LittD. She had been active in the movement which created the National University of Ireland and in the Home Rule Movement, and had contributed to Celtic studies.
On 14 August 1922, aged 72, she disappeared on a lonely walk from Montanoyt to Chamonix. Twelve days later her body was found, with only minor injuries, on the lower slopes of Mont Blanc.
Dr Bryant wrote several books and articles on educational topics. Bernard Shaw, an intimate friend of her youth, wrote: ‘…she had a literary style that outdid George Eliot’s, but fiction was not in her line.’ She collaborated with J. McKeen Cattell on ‘Mental association investigated by experiment’, Mind, 14, 249-50 (1889). Three years earlier she had written on ‘Experiments in testing the character of school children’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 15, 338-49 (1886). She took part in the first experiments on digit span, which were reported by J. Jacobs in Mind, 12, 75-9 (1886). She shared in the early application of the correlation coefficient to biological material. Using W.F.R. Weldon’s data from measurements of shrimps, she wrote ‘An example in "correlation of averages" for four variables’, Philosophical Magazine Series 5, 36, 372-77 (1893). Dr Bryant was a member of the first committee of five members of the [British] Psychological Society.
* The text here is adapted from John Kenna’s ‘Biographical Notes on the Ten Founding Members’, published in Steinberg, H. (Ed.) (1961) The British Psychological Society 1901-1961. Supplement to the Bulletin of the British Psychological Society.