Humanities › History & Culture The Life and Career of Mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya Share Flipboard Email Print Heritage Images / Hulton Archive / Getty Images History & Culture Women's History Important Figures History Of Feminism Key Events Women's Suffrage Women & War Laws & Womens Rights Feminism & Pop Culture Feminist Texts American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century View More By Jone Johnson Lewis Women's History Writer B.A., Mundelein College M.Div., Meadville/Lombard Theological School Jone Johnson Lewis is a women's history writer who has been involved with the women's movement since the late 1960s. She is a former faculty member of the Humanist Institute. our editorial process Jone Johnson Lewis Updated August 19, 2019 Sofia Kovalevskaya's father, Vasily Korvin-Krukovsky, was a general in the Russian Army and was part of Russian nobility. Her mother, Yelizaveta Shubert, was from a German family with many scholars; her maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were both mathematicians. She was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1850. Background Known for:first woman to hold a university chair in modern Europefirst woman on the editorial staff of a mathematical journalDates: January 15, 1850 to February 10, 1891Occupation: novelist, mathematicianAlso known as: Also known as:Sonya KovalevskayaSofya KovalevskayaSophia KovalevskaiaSonia KovelevskayaSonya Korvin-Krukovsky Learning Mathematics As a young child, Sofia Kovalevskaya was fascinated with the unusual wallpaper on the wall of a room on the family estate: the lecture notes of Mikhail Ostrogradsky on differential and integral calculus. Although her father provided her with private tutoring, he would not allow her to study abroad for further education, and Russian universities would not then admit women. Sofia Kovalevskaya wanted to continue her studies in mathematics, so she found a solution: an amenable young student of paleontology, Vladimir Kovalensky, who entered into a marriage of convenience with her. This allowed her to escape the control of her father. In 1869, they left Russia with her sister, Anyuta. Sonja went to Heidelberg, Germany, Sofia Kovalensky went to Vienna, Austria, and Anyuta went to Paris, France. University Study In Heidelberg, Sofia Kovalevskaya obtained the permission of the mathematics professors to allow her to study at the University of Heidelberg. After two years she went to Berlin to study with Karl Weierstrass. She had to study privately with him, as the university in Berlin would not allow any women to attend class sessions, and Weierstrass was unable to get the university to change the rule. With Weierstrass' support, Sofia Kovalevskaya pursued a degree in mathematics elsewhere, and her work earned her a doctorate sum cumma laude from the University of Göttingen in 1874. Her doctoral dissertation on partial differential equations is today called the Cauch-Kovelevskaya Theorem. It so impressed the faculty that they awarded Sofia Kovalevskaya the doctorate without examination and without her having attended any classes at the university. Looking for Work Sofia Kovalevskaya and her husband returned to Russia after she earned her doctorate. They were unable to find the academic positions they desired. They pursued commercial ventures and produced a daughter as well. Sofia Kovalevskaya began writing fiction, including a novella Vera Barantzova which won sufficient acclaim to be translated into several languages. Vladimir Kovalensky, immersed in a financial scandal for which he was about to be prosecuted, committed suicide in 1883. Sofia Kovalevskaya had already returned to Berlin and mathematics, taking their daughter with her. Teaching and Publishing She became a privatdozent at Stockholm University, paid by her students rather than the university. In 1888 Sofia Kovalevskaya won the Prix Bordin from the French Academie Royale des Sciences for research now called the Kovelevskaya top. This research examined how Saturn's rings rotated. She also won a prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1889, and that same year was appointed to a chair at the university—the first woman appointed to a chair at a modern European university. She was also elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences as a member that same year. She only published ten papers before her death from influenza in 1891, after a trip to Paris to see Maxim Kovalensky, a relative of her late husband with whom she was having a love affair. A lunar crater on the far side of the moon from Earth and an asteroid were both named in her honor. Sources Ann Hibner Koblitz. A Convergence of Lives: Sofia Kovalevskaia: Scientist, Writer, Revolutionary. 1993 reprint.Roger Cooke. The Mathematics of Sonya Kovalevskaya. 1984.Linda Keene, editor. The Legacy of Sonya Kovalevskaya: Proceedings of a Symposium. 1987.