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John Venn Biography

Background and Education

John Venn Biography

John Venn (August 5, 1834–April 4, 1923)

John Venn is a renowned philosopher and English logician born on 4th August 1834. He was born in Hull, England to Henry Venn and Martha Sykes. His father worked as a rector in the Anglican Parish. Unfortunately, his mother died while he was three years old. He was brought up under the care of his father who was involved in church evangelicals. His father was very strict, and this made his early life to be difficult. He is the one who invented the Venn diagram which is utilized in various fields of science including logic, computer science, set theory, and probability.

John Venn began his schooling in the September 1846 at Sir Roger Cholmeley’s School in London. In the year 1853, he moved to Islington preparatory school after which he proceeded to Caius and Gonville College at the University of Cambridge (Venn, 2011). At the University, he obtained a degree in mathematics. In the year 1862, he was appointed as a lecturer and also concentrated on his long-time career at the alma mater. Having fellowshipped at the college for several years, he was named the president if the college a position which he held until his demise. Being brought up in a religious family, Venn was also ordained as a spiritual leader in the year 1859 and appointed as an Anglican Priest. He first served as pastor at Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, where he was later transferred to Mortlake, Surrey to provide services in the same position as a church priest. However, in the year 1883, he resigned from being a clergy to concentrate in his career but remained a staunch church member.


While at Cambridge University, he worked as mathematics fellow immediately after graduating from the University. He was later appointed to work as a lecturer to teach philosophy of science and logic at Gonville and Caius College. When he began his teaching career, he only taught logic, statistics, mathematics, and the theory of probability (Venn, 2015). His contribution towards logic and statistics was noted in the year 1883 by the academic world. This made the Royal Society to award him a Doctor of Science. This was one of the highest career accomplishments for scientists.

John Venn returned to Cambridge University in the year 1862 where he was appointed as a lecturer. He taught moral sciences including probability theory and logic. His duties at the university inspired him to develop Venn diagram. While at the University, he published various books such as The Logic of Chance, Symbolic Logic, and the Principals of Empirical and Inductive Logic (Venn, 2015). The books dealt with the theory and frequency of probability. The second book which was published in the year 1886 also dwelt on the development and theory of statistics. John Venn was thirsty to acquire knowledge and was passionate about mathematics. The passion he had for mathematics encouraged him to do more every day. While lecturing at the University of Cambridge, Venn was more excited and interested in discovering more on a branch of mathematics known as logic (Venn, 2011). His major work, the Venn diagram was first introduced as a George Boole’s theory which was later published in one of his books, the Symbolic Logic. The Venn diagram was developed in the year 1881. It was a representation of the relation between various sets of data using cycles. The Venn diagram is applicable in solving various mathematical problems that require logical reasoning. The Venn diagram has been used to teach introductory courses in logic and mathematics. Besides, it is utilized by various media companies to illustrate the relationship between different concepts. Venn also built a rare machine which was unique. The device was employed to bowl the cricket balls. The machine could only be found at Cambridge University. The machine was so fascinating and was utilized to entertain the Australians who visited the university.

Charity Work

Venn actively participated in various civic societies. He was a member of the Cambridge Charitable Organization Society (Venn, 2011). He also served as a president for one year for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. Venn also headed Cambridge Provident Medical Institution as a vice president. Together with his wife Susanna, they supported women to participate in voting since it was their political right. On 6th October 1908 he wrote a letter that was encouraging women to participate in council elections at the Cambridge town. The letter was directed to the Cambridge Independent Press. Venn John was also a gardener. He was passionate about this and took part in various competitions which were organized by different groups. For instance, he was able to win a prize after participating in an event arranged by the Cambridge Shire Horticultural Society. He was the one who had the best carrots and roses during the competition.

John Venn got married in the year 1886 to Susanna Carnegie Edmonstone (Venn, 2011). They were blessed with one son whom they named John Archibald Venn. His son was also passionate about mathematics and joined his father in the career. John Venn later resigned from being a clergy in the year 1883 after realizing that his philosophical beliefs were not compatible with Anglicanism. John Venn passed on 4th April the year 1923 having lived for 90 years.

  • Venn, John, ed. The Book of Matriculations and Degrees. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Venn, John. Alumni Cantabrigienses: a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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