Sofya Kovalevskaya: The eventful life of a maths pioneer Feb. 10, 2022

from The Forum· ·

If you were a woman in the mid-19th century, some universities might let you attend public lectures on science, but very few would enrol women as regular students. The number of women allowed to sit exams and get academic degrees was vanishingly small. In mathematics it was almost unheard of. But the Russian mathematician Sofya Kovalevskaya changed all that. She was one of the first women in modern Europe both to gain a doctorate in mathematics and become a tenured professor. She was also the first woman to be part of the editorial committee of a leading mathematics journal and …



If you were a woman in the mid-19th century, some universities might let you attend public lectures on science, but very few would enrol women as regular students. The number of women allowed to sit exams and get academic degrees was vanishingly small. In mathematics it was almost unheard of. But the Russian mathematician Sofya Kovalevskaya changed all that. She was one of the first women in modern Europe both to gain a doctorate in mathematics and become a tenured professor. She was also the first woman to be part of the editorial committee of a leading mathematics journal and the publicity around her achievements helped pave the way for women to play a greater role in university life. Above all, she was an outstanding mathematician with at least one theorem bearing her name still used to this day. So how did Kovalevskaya do it? How much was talent? How much luck and opportunity? And how much just sheer force of character? To guide us through Sofya Kovalevskaya’s eventful life - and her equations – Bridget Kendall is joined by three experts: Ann Hibner Koblitz, professor emerita at Arizona State University and the author of A Convergence of Lives: Sofya Kovalevskaya - Scientist, Writer, Revolutionary; June Barrow-Green, professor of the history of mathematics at the Open University in the UK and chair of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics; and Elena Arsenyeva, associate professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia and the coordinator of the Leonhard Euler International Mathematical Institute. (Photo: Sofya Kovalevskaya Credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)