Women in Mathematics

Women in Mathematics

Women in Mathematics

Women in Mathematics

Excerpt

History traditionally bestows only casual recognition on mathematicians, male or female. As Alfred Adler observed in a recent New Yorker article, mathematicians come to the realization quite early that "successful research and teaching are the only rewards they will ever receive" (Adler 1972, p. 42). To emphasize his point, Adler challenges his readers to identify more than two of the following: Gauss, Cauchy, Euler, Hilbert, and Riemann.He points out that these are the mathematical equivalents of such greats as Tolstoy, Beethoven, Rembrandt, Darwin, and Freud.

Adler's point is well taken.Only a very few great mathematicians have been lionized with anything like the fervor warranted by their accomplishments; more have faded away into obscurity and mediocrity, while the names of their counterparts in less cerebral disciplines have become extravagantly famous.

But it is interesting to enlarge upon Adler's thesis by examining the role of women in mathematics.If men have had little recognition in this field, women have had less. How many people, indeed, how many mathematicians, recognize the names or contributions of Hypatia, Agnesi, Marquise du Châtelet, Sophie Germain, or Sonya Kovalevsky? Of the last, the German mathematician Kronecker said, "The history of mathematics will speak of her as one of the rarest investigators" (Mozans 1913, p. 164). He was dead wrong.Mathematical history, if it mentions her at all, treats her and her accomplishments in a rather . . .

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