Herstory Thursdays: Sofia Kovalevskaya

Sofia Kovalevskaya was the first woman to be appointed full professorship in Northern Europe, and the first major female Russian mathematician. She created the "Kovalevskaya Top" and won several awards for her work in mathematics. She was born in Moscow and educated by a private Polish tutor where after the age of eleven, she learned calculus and developed a love of math. To continue her education, she engaged in a fictitious marriage to Vladimir Kovalevskij in order to study outside of Moscow. Her marriage allowed her to travel to the University of Heidelberg - even though as a woman she couldn't attend classes. She then traveled to Berlin to became the private student of Karl Weierstrass and learned all she could from him.

In 1874 Kovalevskaya presented three papers to Weierstrass and other's at the faculty, sofja_wassiljewna_kowalewskaja_1where thanks to her work she was awarded a doctorate in Mathematics from the University of Göttingen. She was able to earn this doctorate without taking the required lectures or exams thanks to Weierstrass' support. In 1884, she was appointed professor at the university and 5 years later in 1889 was given full professorship at Stockholm University.

Sofia and her husband Vladimir reconnected several times over the years and they eventually had a daughter. He later died in 1883. During her time in academia, she became friends with actress and novelist Anne Charlotte Edgren-Leffler and they developed a close relationship. Many people think that she and Anne could have been lovers.

Sofia eventually published two books before her death, A Russian Childhood, and Nihilist Girl. She died in 1891, two years after becoming the first woman in Northern Europe to obtain a full professorship.