TWO FEMINIST
MATHEMATICIANS
IN THE TIME OF EULER
By Laura Printz
Hood College
Maria Agnesi
Emilie du Châtelet
THE YEAR OF EULER
18TH CENTURY:
THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Scientific and intellectual developments
 International System of Thought
 Philosophy

Rousseau
Voltaire
THE DEBATE OF THE ACADEMY OF THE
RICOVRATI
1723
 Head of the Academy demanded that “old
questions, customs and beliefs be reevaluated
and put to the test of reason.”
 Transcript became a published text in 1729
 Served as a preview to the continuing
controversy of women’s education over the course
of the Italian Enlightenment.

EDUCATION IN EUROPE
FOR WOMEN

Options:
Convents
 Salons
 Tutors

MARIA GAETANA AGNESI
(1718-1799)
Milan, Italy
 Family life

One of 21 children
 Devoted to her father


Education
Languages
 Tutors


Religious vs. Family Convictions
“The rule of Maria Gaetana’s life, I think, was
passionate obedience.”
-C. Truesdell
AGNESI’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Published Propositiones philosophicae.

191 theses on various sciences.
Published two volume Instituzioni Analitche.
 Offered the chair of mathematics and natural
philosophy at University of Bologna

AGNESI’S THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION
Oral Translation at Age
Nine
 Maria Gaetana Agnesi et
alia: The Contest for
Knowledge: Debates Over
Women’s Education in
Eighteenth Century Italy
 Leads by example

“…I might assert with my voice, how
adverse to the truth is the opinion of
those who very stubbornly insist that
the studies of the liberal arts are
altogether unsuitable in women.”
-from The Contest for Knowledge
DEDICATION OF HER BOOK
“For if at any time there can be an excuse for the rashness of
a Woman, who ventures to aspire to the subtleties of a
science, which knows no bounds, not even those of infinity
itself, it certainly should be at this glorious period, in which
a Woman reigns, and reigns with universal applause and
admiration. Indeed, I am fully convinced, that in this age,
an age which, from your reign, will be distinguished to
latest posterity, every Woman ought to exert herself, and
endeavor to promote the glory of her sex, and to contribute
her utmost to increase that luster, which it happily receives
from Your Majesty....."
Excerpt from Agnesi Instituzioni analitiche
EMILIE DU CHÂTELET (1706-1749)
”…WAS A GREAT MAN WHOSE ONLY
FAULT WAS BEING A WOMAN”
-VOLTAIRE
Paris, France
 Education

Languages
 Physical Education
 Tutors


Voltaire’s Mistress
Voltaire’s Mistress
DU CHATELET AS A
MATHEMATICIAN/ SCIENTIST
Published physics textbook Instituitions de
physique
 Translated Newton’s Principia with
commentaries
 Nature of Fire Essay
 E=mc2

DU CHATELET AS A TRANSLATOR
Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees
 Newton’s Principia
 Sophocles Oedipus Rex

“J’apprends l’italien, non seulement pour l’entendre, mais peut-être pour
le traduire un jour. Je m’exerce dans l’art de la traduction, pour m’en
rendre digne. Je traduis the fable of the bees de Mandeville; c’est un livre
qui mérite que vous le lisiez, si vous ne le connaissez pas; il est
amusant et instructif.”
DU CHATELET AS A FEMINIST
Words and deeds
 Actions speak louder than words.
 Cafés in Paris.

Frontispiece to Voltaire's Eléments de la
philosophie de Newton (1738) shows Du
Châtelet shining the light of truth
emanating from Newton onto Voltaire at
his desk.
Emilie’s Thoughts on Women’s Education
The Translator’s Preface
From Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees
“Qu’on fasse un peu réflexion pourquoi depuis
tant des siècles jamais une bonne tragédie, un
bon poème, une histoire estimée, un beau
tableau, un bon livre de physique n’est sorti de
la mains des femmes?”
-Emilie Du Châtelet
“ Let the reader ponder why, at no time in the
course of so many centuries, a good tragedy, a
good poem, a respected tale, a fine painting, a
good book on physics has never been produced
by women.”
- Emilie Du Châtelet
BOTH DEFENDED WOMEN’S EDUCATION

Agnesi started early (at age 9).
 Spoke out orally, then had speech published.
 Dedicated her book to strong women.


Du Châtelettranslated a book
 added a compelling preface.

Both were good role models and lead by example.
 Both spoke out in favor on the debate for
women’s education!

THE
BIG
WHAT-IFS?
“In mathematics, the wonder is not that so few have
attained proficiency in the field, but that so many have
overcome obstacles to doing so. We can only speculate
about the multitude who were dissuaded from the
attempt…”
Osen, Women in Mathematics
SPECIAL THANKS TO:

The Summer Research Institute at Hood College:
Dr. Mayfield
 Dr. Tysdal
 Mel Barrick, Lindsey Nagy, and Chelsea Sprankle

The Mathematical Association of America
 Dr. Victor Katz
 Bill Dunham
 Dr. Ron Calinger

WORKS CITED
Edwards, Samuel. The Divine Mistress. New York: Van Rees Press, 1970.
Findlen, Paula and Rebecca Messbarger. The Contest for Knowledge.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Goodman, Dena. “Enlightenment Salons: The Convergence of Female and
Philosophic Ambitions.” Eighteenth-Century Studies. Spring 1989: 22.
Osen, Lynn M. Women in Mathematics. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1974.
Schiebinger, Londa. “Feminine Icons: The Face of Early Modern Science.”
Critical Inquiry. Summer 1988: 14.
Trusdell, Clifford. “Maria Gaetana Agnesi.” Archive for History of Exact
Sciences. 1989: 40.
Wade, Ira O. Voltaire and Madame Du Chatelet. New York: Octagon Books
Inc., 1941.
Zinsser, Judith P. La Dame d’Esprit. New York: The Penguin Group, 2006.
Zinsser, Judith P. “Translating Newton’s ‘Principia’: The Marquise du
Chatelet’s Revisions and Additions for French Audience.” Notes and
Records of the Royal Society of London. May 2001: 55.
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