House That for Coincidence?


There are close to 100 million single detached homes in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There are 12,307 Scripps College alumnae, living and deceased. So, what are the odds that one house would have been home at separate times to three non-related Scripps College alumnae?

We asked Associate Professor of Mathematics Chris Towse (rhymes with house) this question. His answer: “Using what’s called the Poisson Approximation…the answer is approximately .003106%. In other words, there’s a one in 32,196 chance, roughly, that there will be at least one triple of people who all have lived in the same place.”

Towse said that this is a much higher probability than one might expect (and that he did the math quickly). Any mathematician with a different method or answer—let us know.

The residence in question is on McClendon Street in Houston, Texas, in the family-friendly University Place neighborhood. Built in 1940, the two-story traditional has been home to the late Molly Ivins ’66, Marga Rose Hancock ’69, and Katherine Harper ’01.

Did this shared location play any role in the subsequent lives of these three alumnae? Marga does not consider that the house itself influenced her life; however, Molly Ivins certainly influenced her.

“From early on, I read and took strength from Molly’s bold words,” Marga said. Both women left Scripps near the beginning of their college careers: Molly transferred to Smith, Marga stepped out for a year. Both returned: Marga to graduate from Scripps, and Molly to deliver the Commencement address in 2003. It was Marga who encouraged Molly to accept the invitation from Scripps to speak.

Katherine was only 18 months old when her family moved into the McClendon house—and the house is still in her family, although she now lives in Los Angeles. She recalls that there were “tons” of children in the neighborhood, all about her age. “It was a lot of fun growing up on that street.”

Today, both Marga and Katherine remain engaged in Scripps activities. Marga is a vice president for regional associates on the College’s Alumnae Leadership Council, as well as the Class of ’69 reunion co-chair and class scribe. She was on the creative caucus that originated Camp Scripps, first held in 1994, which endowed the Lois Langland Alumna-in- Residence program.

Katherine is involved with the College in many ways as well: as a class scribe, an alumnae admissions interviewer, a reunion volunteer, and a regional associate.

Hmm, two alumnae—both regional associates, both class scribes, both reunion volunteers. Both grew up in the same house. Now, what are the odds on that?


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