History of Mathematics – Women in Mathematics

I have only had one encounter where being female has caused a person to doubt my ability to do math.  That person was a professor that I talked to while visiting colleges in order to pick where I wanted to go for my undergraduate degree.  Needless to say,  that professor made my decision to not attend that particular college very easy.  However, in a class we discussed the hardships that women have faced in the sciences, and more specifically, math.  Obviously, since I am a female and will be degree holding mathematician in less than two weeks, this topic appeals to me.  By using four different resources, I have created a timeline of some of the important female mathematicians.  For each mathematician I have included the years that were alive, most have their country of origin, and one or two thing that I personally feel are their most significant achievements.  These achievements could be an advancement for mathematics in general or a step towards equality for women in the field.  Also, the name of each mathematician is a hyperlink to a webpage with more information on her.


Hypatia of Alexandria (355 or 370 – 415 or 416)


Salaried head of Neoplatonic School in Alexandria


Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646-1684)


Lecturer in mathematics at University of Padua


Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799)


Wrote a textbook to explain math to her brothers which described a cubic curve


Sophia Germain (1776-1830 or 1831)


Partial solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem


Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872)

Scottish and British

Produced writings in theoretical and mathematical science


Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)


Notes on an article on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine became known as a computer and software


Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Actually a nurse, but developed pie-like chart to show mortality rate due to unsanitary hospital conditions


Charlotte Angas Scott (1848-1931)


First head of mathematics department at Byrn Mawr College


Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)


Researched Koalevskaya Top and Cauchy-Kovalevskaya Theorem

Married for convenience in order to move from Russia to continue her advanced studying


Hertha Marks Ayrton (1854-1923)


First female in Institution of Electrical Engineers


Annie Dale Biddle Andrews (1885-1940)

First female with Ph.D. in math from University of California Berkeley


Alicia Stott (1860-1940)


Platonic and Archimedean solids translated into higher dimensions


Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1944)


First female at Gottingen University in Germany to receive a doctorate


Tatyana Afanasyeva (1876-1974)


Published papers on randomness, geometry, and entropy


Amalie Emmy Noether (1882-1935)

German, Jewish, American

Developed some of the foundation for Einstein’s general theory of relativity

Contributed to algebra significantly


Anna Johnson Pell Wheeler (1883-1966)


Contributed to linear algebra


Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright (1900-1935)


First female elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of England

Published more than 100 papers on function theory


Marjorie Lee Browne (1914-1979)


Head of mathematics department at North Carolina Central University

Contributed to linear and matrix algebra


Julia Hall Bowman Robinson (1919-1985)


First female mathematician to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences


Shafi Goldwasser (1958-)


Two time winner of the Godel Prize for her theoretical computer science work


Learning about what all of these women have done to influence mathematics is pretty amazing considering the opposition they had, especially the earlier ones.  It is interesting to think about where we could be now, and where math could be, if they hadn’t had to overcome all that they did.


Links to the sources that I used:






One thought on “History of Mathematics – Women in Mathematics

  1. Good list of great mathematicians. Maybe you could flesh out the list with what drew you to these in particular (your process or values), or what you found interesting about them. Or, given the list, go into more depth on one you find especially relevant. Alternatively, you could make it a resource post, and add specific links for each person on the list.

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