Women Mathematicians in History
Women mathematicians exhibit distinct characteristics that differentiate them from other women. Most of these women were ascetics and sensualists, while, on the specific note, some were materialists and others transcendentalists. They portrayed high levels of intelligence by manifesting extraordinary zeal, aliveness, and determination. Additionally, they were tenaciously eccentric and individualistic with no interest in social leadership. Most of them had intellectual fathers, who played significant roles and inspired their professional progress. While some women mathematicians appeared as saints, others were regarded as sinners.
Hypatia of Alexandria lived between 370 and 420 AD. Her father taught mathematics in the Museum of Alexandria. The father inspired her in mathematics and taught at the Neo-Platonist school of philosophy. Her main interests were mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. She was a unique women; she was the first lady to own and drive a chariot, contrary to all rules and norms. Out of hatred and jealousy, Christian Bishop Cyril incited a mob to attack and kill her (Alic, 1986).
Elena Cornaro Piscopia, an Italian woman who lived between 1646 and 1684, was a mathematician, philosopher, and theologian. Although her main interests were in mathematics, she also was carried away by languages and arts, especially music. After her admission to the University of Padua, she studied mathematics and earned a master and doctorate of philosophy. She was the first lady to receive a Ph.D. She later taught mathematics in the University until her death.
Emilie Du Chatelet, a French woman who lived between 1706 and1749, received a lot of support from her colleagues, who were mainly male mathematicians and scientists. She contributed to the Mathematical Principles of Natural philosophy. This was a translator of Newton’s laws to French. She was a pretty and wealthy aristocrat, who dated Voltaire and died in few days after giving birth to their baby.
Maria Agnesi, an Italian woman who lived between 1718 and 1799, had interests in mathematics since her childhood. Her father was a professor in mathematics at the University of Bologna, and he inspired her to apply herself to the science. She wrote much on calculus and formulated algebraic and analytical methods (Case, 2005). As a result, an equation of curves, known as the Witch of Agnesi, was developed. After retiring at the age of 32, she spent the rest of her life serving to the poor and sick.
Caroline Herschel was a German woman born in 1750; she died in 1848. She was a single woman, who lacked adequate parental support. Her brother was a lecturer in mathematics and astronomy. She applied mathematics in astronomy and was the first woman to detect a comet. She was an analytical and talented woman, who lived for 97 years.
Sophie Germain was a French woman, who lived between 1776 and 1831. She was single and received support from Langrage, although her parents strongly opposed her profession. She contributed to the calculus of variations with the specific interest in the mathematical theory of vibrations in curved and plane elastic surfaces. She was independent and dignified women until her later death from breast cancer.
Mary Fairfax Somerville was an English woman, who lived between 1780 and 1872. She had an interest in mathematics since teenage and received support from her uncle, who was a lecturer in mathematics. She contributed to the study of heavenly bodies and mathematical monographs. She lived for 92 years and was still mentally unimpaired (Osen, 1974).
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was an American woman, who lived between 1906 and1992. She had an interest in mathematics. After having been married for 15 years, she divorced without having any child. Her mother inspired her in mathematics. The navy commander, Dr. Howard Aiken, was her mentor. The woman made her main contribution in computer programming. She was the first large scale computer programmer. Throughout her life, she gained a considerable reputation among computer scientists. She lived for 85 years.
Other contemporary women, who made radical contribution in mathematics, include Linda Barrett in topology and applied mathematics, Joan Birman in algebra, Lenore Blum in logic and foundations, and Leila Bram in analytical number of theory (Yount, 1999). Apart from these women, several other female scientists have contributed in mathematics immensely.