Until recently I had never even heard the name of a woman who had influenced mathematics. I’m not sure if males have just made more significant strides, or if it’s that females are simply not recognized. Being a female, I find it curious that I have never known about all of the accomplishments many of these women have made, so I wanted to explore a few of them and take the time to learn about all they’ve done. I’m going to look at three in particular; Hypatia, Kovalevskaya, and Noether.
Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415)
Hypatia was one of the first women to make contributions to the development of mathematics. Her father, Theon of Alexandria, was a mathematician and philosopher and guided Hypatia in her mathematics studies. She began teaching mathematics and philosophy at Platonist school in Alexandria. Many of the people she taught were Christians, and she became a symbol of learning and science which was against their belief because they believed for it to be paganism. She was eventually murdered by them because they felt very threatened by her knowledge and learning. Although she didn’t necessarily make big strides herself in mathematical research, she assisted her father with creating a new version of Euclid’s Elements. All of her work is lost aside from titles and references, but it seems she was a great compiler, editor, and preserver of earlier mathematical works.
Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)
Kovalevskaya was from Russia, a middle child of two well-educated parents. She enjoyed math beginning when she was young when her uncle spoke very highly of the subject. At the age of 11, she had wallpaper of differential and integral analysis, introducing her to calculus, where she made connections between what her uncle had said and the content in the notes. She then had a tutor which gave her her first official study of mathematics. These lessons ended when Sofia’s father put a stop to them, but she then continued to study on her own. Professor Tyrtov brought her family a physics book and argued to her father that Sophia should be allowed to continue her studies, but it wasn’t until much later that her father agreed. She traveled to Heidelberg to study mathematics and natural sciences, but found out that women were not aloud to study there. She unofficially studied there by attending lectures as long as she had the permission. Sophia did this for three semesters before moving to Berlin where she was privately tutored by Weierstrass, Königsberger’s teacher. She wrote papers on partial differential equations, abelian integrals, and saturn’s rings. Sophia received her doctorate degree from Göttingen University after a long fight for her education. Her fight continued when she ran into many difficulties obtaining an education job. Six years later she ended up teaching at an elementary school. Much later, she held a chair at a European University, something only two other females had previously accomplished. She continued her studies and eventually won a prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Emmy Noether (1882-1935)
Noether was born in Germany and was the daughter of mathematician, Max Noether. Her goal was to become a language teacher in which she got her certification, but then realized she wanted to attend a university to unofficially study mathematics. This was clearly the difficult route until 1904 when she was aloud to officially study mathematics at a university. She recieved her doctorate degree while focusing on the theory of invariants for the forms of n variables. She worked on developing theories of rings, fields, and algebras. Emmy then continued her research as well as assisting her father in his. As she began to publish her work, her reputation grew and she was soon being elected into organizations and giving lectures. Emmy worked on a theorem in theoretical physics known as Noether’s theorem which proves a relationship between symmetries in physics and conservation principles. Hilbert fought for her to have a position on the Faculty, and meanwhile allowed her to lecture his classes while advertising her own courses under his name. She then continued her work on ideal theory while publishing her papers. Noether eventually moved to the United States where she accepted a position Bryn Mawr College. Upon her remarkable achievements, I thought it was very interesting to hear that a crater on the moon is named for her, a street in her hometown is named for her and the school she attended is now named the Emmy Noether School.
I think it’s very important for people to realize the strides that these women have made in mathematics. As a future teacher, I think it’s extremely important for my student to understand that mathematics doesn’t just appear, but people have worked hard to make the discoveries they’ve made, both men and women. I’m not particularly thrilled when learning about history, but it makes more sense to know that the mathematics we learned came from somewhere and I think students will be more apt to learning it when they know more about why it came about and where it came form.