Friday, March 23, 2012

Sonia Kovalevsky Day

Her birthday is January 15, but today gets to be her day. Cathy O'Neil (aka Mathbabe) started Sonia Kovalevsky Day at Barnard College in 2006, and it sounds like it's been going strong ever since.

Sonia is one of my heroes. Born in 1850 in Russia, she loved mathematics, fought her parents to study it, and entered into a marriage of convenience so that she could study abroad. She earned a PhD studying under Weierstrass, and still couldn't find work doing mathematics.

Eventually she got a position at the  University of Stockholm, and later won the prestigious Prix Bordin. She also had a daughter, who she raised alone. She died at age 41, when her daughter was only 12.

Mathematician, activist, and mother, Sonia was also a writer, whose novels were published to some acclaim. My kind of woman.

(Read more here and here.)


  1. Ooo! Thanks, Sue! I enjoyed reading some more about a female mathematician I'd never heard of before. The fact that she was a student of Weierstrass makes her even more intriguing to me.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sonia Kovalevsky Days are awesome and have been held at a variety of locations all over the country since 1985, under the auspices of the Association for Women in Mathematics.

    I have extremely fond memories of the one we attended over 15 years ago at UAlbany.

    There is a wonderful quote from Sonia Kovalevsky which my daughter encountered when she was about 9 or 10 years old (a few years before that UAlbany day) and it struck her so much that she painstakingly copied it in calligraphy:

    "Many who have never had an opportunity of knowing any more about mathematics confound it with arithmetic, and consider it an arid science. In reality, however, it is a science which requires a great deal of imagination, and one of the leading mathematicians of our century states the case quite correctly when he says that it is impossible to be a mathematician without being a poet in soul.

    It seems to me that the poet has only to perceive that which others do not perceive, to look deeper than others look. And the mathematician must do the same thing. As for myself, all my life I have been unable to decide for which I had the greater inclination, mathematics or literature.”

    It is still hanging there today, well over a decade and a half later.


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