Women’s History Month: The Story of Sofia Kovalevskaya


TJ Hill, Staff Writer

Sofia Kovalevskaya was born on January 15, 1850 in Moscow, Russia. Kovalevskaya became well known as a Russian mathematician who made noteworthy contributions to analysis, partial differential equations, and mechanics. She was the first woman of several accomplishments, such as being the first woman in modern Europe to gain a doctorate in mathematics, which she soon became appointed professor of this subject. She also joined the editorial board of a scientific journal. She paved the way for success in women. As the child of a Russian family of minor nobility, Sofia was raised in plush surroundings. She was not a typically happy child, as she grew up feeling neglected as the middle child in her family of a well admired, first born daughter named Anya, and for the youngest male heir, Fedya. Kovalevskay’s parents provided her with an early education, at which she learned three separate languages including English, French, and German. The barriers to her education were numerous, counting the opinion of an unfortunately large number that the schooling of woman would cause them to develop an aggressive and competitive disposition regarding their traditional role as homemakers. In 1871, Sofia moved to Berlin to study with Karl Weierstrass, Konigsberger’s former teacher. When she arrived, Weierstrass handed her difficult mathematical problems to test her skills, and when she would solve the problems (no later than a week) he would be immediately convinced of her brilliance. Three years later, Sofia was granted a Ph. D. from the University of Gottingen. Yet, even with such a prestigious degree with the help of Weierstrass, who had grown quite fond of his pupil, Sofia was not able to find employment. Eventually she was able to find an occupation, in which she made a valuable contribution regarding the theory of partial differential equations. she taught as a professor at Stockholm University, where she was awarded as Professional Chair. Not only did Kovalevskaya make an impact on women in mathematics but she also began to make a difference in scientific realms as well. During her career as Professor, she published 10 papers in mathematical physics including several literacy works. Sofia Kovalevskay passed away at the early age of 41 due to an epidemic influenza complicated by pneumonia. People can visit her burial located in Solna, Sweden, at Norra Begravningsplatsen.