John Venn was a British mathematician, philosopher and a logician who went on to become one of the most important contributors to the study of statistics. Although he was born in a deeply religious family, many of whose members ended up entering the clergy, John Venn instead became an academic and in spite of becoming a priest at one point of his life he was courageous enough to resign from his position since he believed that his own philosophies did not conform to the beliefs of the church. He continued to be an academic of importance at the famous University of Cambridge and worked in different branches of mathematics, logic and ‘philosophy of Science’. John Venn’s work on the models that led to the development of the celebrated Venn diagram is used to this day by academics, mathematicians, statisticians; in fact it is important to point out that some of his findings in relation to mathematics have also been used in computer science. Needless to say, John Venn is a giant of modern sciences who might have done most of his work in the 19th century but his body of work is still studied at schools and universities all across the world.
Childhood & Early Life
John Venn was born on 4 August 1834 to Reverend Henry Venn and Martha Sykes in the town named Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, England. Venn’s father was the rector of a parish and in fact his family had traditionally been evangelicals who had been involved with the church for many generations.
John Venn’s family was disciplinarian and considering the fact that they were church evangelicals it was only natural. In 1846, at the age of 12, Venn entered the Sir Roger Cholmeley’s School. Later on his parents sent him to the Islington proprietary school located in London.
He graduated from high school in the year 1853 and upon graduation he went to Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge.In 1857, he graduated from Cambridge University, and obtained his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. Right after graduating he became a fellow at the University.
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John Venn worked as a fellow in mathematics at the University of Cambridge soon after he graduated from the same university and in 1862, he was appointed as a lecturer in ‘philosophy of science’ as well as in logic at the Gonville and Caius College.
Initially John Venn was only engaged in teaching mathematics, logic, statistics and probability theory to the students of Gonville and Caius College, however in 1869, he started to give lectures at other colleges at the University of Cambridge as well. It was during this stage of his career that John Venn developed the ‘Venn Diagram’.
John Venn had become an Anglican priest, in 1859, two years after graduating from the University of Cambridge in order to keep the family tradition alive but in the year 1883 he felt that it was something that did not agree with his own views on life and spirituality. He resigned the same year from the clergy.
It was in the year 1883 that Venn’s contributions towards the study of logic, statistics and mathematics was duly noted by the academic world as he was awarded a ‘Doctor of Science’ by the Royal Society. It was then regarded as one of the highest accomplishments for most exponents of science.
John Venn was held in high regard in the college in which he used to be a student and where he started off his career as an academic; which is why the college elected him to the post of ‘President of the College’ in 1903. He held the post for the rest of his life.
Throughout his life as an academic of note, John Venn did a lot of research but his most important work is that of developing the Venn Diagram that went on to create a new way of looking visually at mathematical and statistical problems. Venn diagrams, named after him, are still in wide use not only in academics but in many other different walks of life.
Awards & Achievements
In 1883, John Venn was named as a Fellow of the Royal Society following an election and at the time when he was inducted, it remained one of the highest honours for all exponents of science in Great Britain.
Personal Life & Legacy
John Venn got married to Susanna Carnegie Edmonstone, in 1868, at the age of 34. The couple had a son named John Archibald Venn, who went on to become a well-known economist.
John Venn breathed his last on 4 April 1923, at the age of 88.