Sofia Kovalevskaya: a 19th century pioneer for women in mathematics
13.15-14.00, Florence Nightingale Day, December 2015
When in 1889 the Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya was appointed to a professorship of mathematics in Stockholm, she was the first woman professor of mathematics in modern Europe. But that was only one of her many firsts. She was also the first woman in modern history to gain a doctorate in mathematics, the first woman to win the prestigious Prix Bordin of the Paris Academy of Sciences and the first woman on the editorial board of a major scientific journal.
But mathematics was only one part of her life. She was a champion for women’s rights – she engaged in a ‘fictitious’ marriage in order to leave Russia – and for radical political causes, and she was an accomplished writer whose work brought her into contact with a variety of distinguished figures such as Dostoyevsky and George Eliot. In my talk I shall trace Sofia’s pioneering journey through the mathematical centres of Europe describing her mathematics and the mathematicians she met along the way.
June Barrow-Green is professor of history of mathematics at the Open University. She works mostly in 19th and 20th century mathematics although occasionally she strays further back in time. Her most recent work has been about British mathematicians during the First World War, and she is currently looking at the challenges for women studying mathematics in Cambridge in the late 1800s. When not buried in an archive she can often be found on a tennis court, running across country, or on a bicycle.