Florence N. David
by Megan Kruse Public Affairs Coordinator, ASA
Foreword by Nan Laird
As a graduate student in Statistics at Harvard in the early
1970s, I was always on the lookout for a female role model. They were
almost impossible to find. While F. N. David was a very familiar name
from academic publications, it was hard to know she was a woman; I do
not recall ever seeing "Florence Nightingale" David in print.
I learned what F. N. stood for from Fred Mosteller, who was fond of revising
childhood notions about nurses by referring to the original Florence Nightingale
as the Mother of Statistics. Years later I was complaining to former fellow
graduate student, Persi Diaconis, about the Statistical Science series
on "A Conversation with So-and-So," where So-and-So was always
a male statistician. "Well, write one yourself," was Persi's
reply, "and of course they will publish it." It was natural
to pick F. N. David, and since Persi knew well some of her friends, he
set up an introduction.
I think F. N. liked to think of herself as feisty, unconventional,
and outspoken. Certainly this is how she characterized herself and how
she came across in the interview. She struck me as also very compassionate,
but uncompromising. Her guiding principles were hard work, learning, and
research driven by the desire to understand and elucidate, and follow
her own mind and heart. As a revered teacher, colleague, and department
chair she was clearly very successful at what she did.
It was a great honor for me to receive the first F. N.
David Award from the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies
(COPSS) in 2001. I have always been very happy with my choice of profession.
Like F. N., I have been fortunate to have wonderful teachers, colleagues,
and students. She was an outstanding role model for women in statistics
and I am pleased that our profession has named a prize in her honor.
F. N. David, named after her parents' friend Florence Nightingale, was
born August 23, 1909, in Ivington, England. Her major areas of interest
were combinatorics, symmetric functions, distribution of the correlation
coefficient, and the history of probability.
She was educated as a child by the local parson, her formal schooling
interrupted by World War I, then transferred to regular school at the
age of 10. She wanted to attend University College, London, but at the
urging of her mother, she attended Bedford College for Women instead.
She graduated in 1931 with a degree in mathematics.
Upon her graduation, David attempted to secure a position as an actuary,
but firms in London would only accept men. At the suggestion of a friend,
she went to see Karl Pearson at University College. Pearson gave her a
chance, arranging a scholarship for her to continue her studies as his
During her time with Pearson, she became an assistant lecturer in the
Statistics Department at University College. She also worked closely with
Jerzy Neyman and Egon Pearson, Karl Pearson's son, launching a new statistical
journal called Statistical Research Memoirs, in which she published several
papers. She left University College in 1933, but returned to the lab to
work with Jerzy Neyman a few months before Karl Pearson died. Neyman was
surprised that David did not have her doctorate degree, so he encouraged
her to move forward with her education. She submitted her last four published
papers as a dissertation and was awarded a PhD in 1938. That same year,
David published her first book, "Tables of the Correlation Coefficient,"
which came of her work for Pearson computing the solutions of difficult
multiple integrals and calculating the distribution of the correlation
David worked throughout World War II in the statistical sciences. She
was an experimental officer for the Ordinance Board at the Ministry of
Supply and a senior statistician for the Research and Experiments Department
at the Ministry of Home Security. She was also a member of the Land Mines
Committee at the Scientific Advisory Council and a scientific advisor
on mines for the Military Experimental Establishment. Her statistical
models helped anticipate the effects of bombs on population centers like
London-the number of casualties, the effects of bombs on electricity,
water, and sewage systems, and other potential problems.
From 1945-1962, David was a lecturer and reader in the Statistics Department
at University College, and was promoted to professor in 1962. From 1958-1967,
she also held positions as visiting professor and research statistician
in the Department of Statistics and Applied Climatology and Forestry Division
at the University of California, Berkeley. She later replaced Jerzy Neyman
as chair of the department.
David joined the ASA in 1945 while still at University College. She
became a Fellow of the Association in 1954. Her citation read:
Florence N. David, Reader in Statistics, University College, University
of London, author of many substantial papers on the mathematical theory
of statistics; lucid writer for the non-mathematician; teacher whose
students are influential in many lands; scientific adviser to the Beach
Clearance Committee after the war; research worker during the war doing
crucial experimentation, field work and statistical analysis relative
to home security and land mines.
In 1967, David relocated to the United States full time and took a position
at the University of California, Riverside, in the Department of Biostatistics.
In 1970, she became a professor and the first chair of the newly formed
Department of Statistics. She retired from Riverside in 1977 and became
professor emeritus and research associate in biostatistics at the University
of California, Berkeley.
David authored nine books between 1938 and 1968, and wrote or co-wrote
more than 100 papers in scientific journals such as Biometrika, Statistical
Research Memoirs, and the Journal of the American Statistical Association.
David received the first Elizabeth L. Scott award in 1992 for her "efforts
in opening the door to women in statistics; for contributions to the profession
over many years; for contributions to education, science, and public service;
for research contributions to combinatorics, statistical methods, applications
and understanding history; and her spirit as a lecturer and as a role
model." The Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS)
established the Elizabeth L. Scott Award to honor an individual who has
helped foster opportunities for women in statistics.
In 2001, COPSS and the Caucus for Women in Statistics established the
F. N. David Award. The award is granted to a female statistician who serves
as a role model to other women through her contributions to the profession
through excellence in research, leadership of multidisciplinary collaborative
groups, statistics education, or service to the professional societies.
The biannual award consists of a plaque and cash award.
David died on July 23, 1993, leaving behind a legacy of academic achievement
and an open door for women in statistics.