It is a well-established fact that the future of careers in this country will come largely from those in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field. But, unfortunately, females are finding themselves shut out of these careers because of the stereotype that young girls don’t “do” math. Because of the gender based stereotype that girls are more emotional than boys, they are often pushed into more “artsy” fields such as the humanities leaving science and math for their male counterparts. But this does not have to be the case. Here are some examples of famous women throughout history who have overcome this stereotype and made a difference in the field of mathematics:
- Maria Agnesi—This eighteenth century Italian mathematician wrote a book on mathematics to help her struggling brothers with the subject. It worked since the book eventually became published and was a well-respected text on the subject which earned her a slot as the first woman mathematics chair in Europe.
- Sophie Germain—Born in the year of the American Revolution, Sophie Germain exemplified the revolutionary ideals with her love of learning. Because of the discrimination against women in mathematics, Germain had to submit her research under an assumed name. However, she eventually became the first woman to be recognized by the French Academy of Sciences for her work on elasticity.
- Hypatia—Perhaps the first recorded female mathematician dates back to the fourth and fifth centuries and is a descendant of the last member of the famous Alexandrian library. Hypatia was a translator of famous mathematical texts as well as a philosopher and astronomer who was eventually murdered by a mob of Christian zealots.
- Sofia Kovalevskaya—This nineteenth century Russian mathematician moved to Germany so that she could study privately because she could not formally enter a university program. However, her work on differential equations and other topics eventually made her the first woman to receive a professorship in mathematics in Europe.
- Ada Lovelace—Lovelace, the daughter of famous British poet Lord Byron, did not follow in her father’s literary pursuits, but instead followed her own path into mathematics, eventually working on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine writing what is known as the world’s first computer program.
- Amelie Emmy Noether—No less an expert than Albert Einstein praised Noether as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” (Quote source from Einstein: Smithsonian.com) Noether not only had to overcome her role as a female in a male dominated field, but she also had to overcome the prejudice associated with her Jewish heritage. She eventually developed the foundations that Einstein would build on for his theory of relativity.
These pioneering women paved the way for the girls of today who are interested in mathematics and science and who wish to expand on their earlier work. Math does not need to still be an “old boys club.” It can indeed be open to all.