Sofia Kovalevskaya – Queen of Mathematics
Her life was a never-ending struggle with the world and with herself. She became the first Russian female professor.
Sofia Kovalevskaya was born on January 15, 1850 in Moscow. Her father was a Russian general. And her mother was the daughter of a well-known mathematician. The family lived in a large mansion near St. Petersburg. To tell the truth, her parents were very strict.
The girl loved mathematics at a very early age. When she was 11 years old, she hung up notes from mathematical lectures on her walls. Also she taught herself physics. When she was 15 years old, she went to St. Petersburg along with her mother and sister.
Few people know that in her early years Sophia was in love with Fyodor Dostoevsky, who made the marriage proposal to her sister Anna. Her elder sister also had a talent, but in literature. She wrote the story and secretly sent it to the famous writer. Secret correspondence began. Parents liked Anna’s printed story and Dostoevsky was invited into their house. Fyodor fell in love with Anna but she refused him. Sofia was pleased. They say that the sisters became the prototype of the sisters Epachiny in The Idiot, the famous novel by Dostoyevsky.
Sofia and her sister wanted to go to school, but Russian universities didn’t admit women. So they thought of a plan. They needed to find a student to marry one of them. Vladimir Kovalevsky agreed to their plan. By that time, he was a biologist, a friend of the famous Darwin. He liked Sofia. The father didn’t allow the marriage. At that time, younger sisters never married before their elder sisters. But Sofia wanted to go to school very much. So, she left a note for her father and went to the Kovalevsky’s apartment. Her father had to agree to the marriage.
The Kovalevskys went to Germany, and Sofia became a mathematics student. Sofia studied all of the time. In 1871, she moved to Berlin to work with famous mathematician Karl Weierstrass. Women were not allowed to attend the University of Berlin. When Sofia solved the problems that even his advanced students could not solve, Weierstrass accepted her as his student immediately. Three years later, Kovalevskaya received her degree in mathematics.
In 1878, Sofia gave birth to their daughter, who later became a doctor. Kovalevskaya stopped studying. She wanted to be a good wife and mother.
Vladimir taught at the University of Moscow. After a while he began to have money and job problems. He lost all of the money and then committed suicide.
A great Swedish mathematician helped Kovalevskaya get a job as a mathematics professor in Sweden. Actually, she became famous because she was the only female professor in Europe.
In 1888, Kovalevskaya was awarded the greatest mathematics prize of her time, the Prix Bordin. She worked on a problem about the rings around the planet Saturn.
In 1890, Sofia became the first woman elected to the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Science.
You know, in 1888, Sofia met Maxim Kovalevsky, a relative of her dead husband. It was love at first sight. She came to Maxim who lived in Nice. That period was a real “Kovalevsky’s paradise” – they enjoyed life, warmth, dreams of future happiness. The long-awaited wedding was scheduled for the summer… But life decided otherwise.
In December 1890 she got very sick and died on February 10, 1891, at the age of 41. Her last words were: “Too much happiness.”
Kovalevskaya enjoyed prestige in prestigious universities in Europe, became a recognized scholar and teacher, but the scientific community of her native country did not recognize the woman.
In the 1800s, women could not go to college and have professions. Women who became doctors, scientists, and businesswomen had to overcome great obstacles. Many of these women went against laws, traditions, and the wishes of their families. However, they were dedicated to their work and made great contributions to the world. Sofia Kovalevskaya was one of these women.
Five years later, women from different parts of the Russian Empire collected money for the monument to the famous compatriot. So they expressed recognition of Kovalevskaya’s achievements in the field of mathematics and her contribution to the struggle for the rights of women.
Today the achievements of Kovalevskaya are highly valued by the world scientific community. In her honor, a lunar crater and an asteroid are named. Photo of Sofia was depicted in 1951 on the Soviet postage stamp. Since 1992, the Russian Academy of Sciences has awarded the mathematicians the S. Kovalevskaya Prize. Many streets are named in honor of the famous woman scientist. In Stockholm (Sweden), Velikiy Luki (Russia) and Vilnius (Lithuania), her name is given to educational institutions.