Sofia Kovalevskaya

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How much Sofia Kovalevskaya might have accomplished in the field of mathematics if she hadn’t wasted half her time fighting with universities over their male-only policies is an open question, but there’s no dispute that in her short life she made significant strides in several areas, including partial differential equations. Her ascent as an academic was fraught with workarounds like studying abroad (Russian universities forbade women from entering); private tutoring with Karl Theodor Wilhelm Weierstraß; and earning a doctorate through the submission of her papers as a substitute dissertation without taking the required exams. She also held the distinction of being the first woman to hold a full professorship and to edit a scientific journal.

It is uncertain whether Kovalevskaya was attracted to women, men, or both (she is tentatively tagged ‘lesbian’ here). She married a fellow student so that he could sign papers authorizing her to study in Germany, but the two had a tumultuous relationship that ended in their permanent separation, at which point Kovalevskaya moved in with Swedish writer
Anne Charlotte Leffler; the two maintained a “romantic friendship” for the rest of Kovalevskaya’s life.

Kovalevskaya’s name is currently shared with a lunar crater and several grants.

 

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