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 Sophia Kovalevskaya

Born:   January 15, 1850
Deceased:   February 10, 1891

Russian female scientist


Sophia Vasilievna Kovalevskaya, world-famous mathematician and a first female scientist, who is known all around the world, is born in Moscow on January 15, 1850. She spends her childhood in the Polibino village near the town of Velikie Luki, located in Pskov region, and bears the name of Korvin-Krukovskaya. Sophia Vasilievna receives education at home, under guidance of talented and careful teachers. Her parents dreamt of a son, but got two daughters instead, thus Sophia, being the younger sister, doesn’t get much love and attention from her parents.

Sophia’s talents are diverse – when she is 12, she is fond of poetry and mathematics, enhancing her mathematical gift by studying higher mathematics with A.N. Strannolubsky, a brilliant teacher, who later reads courses in Navy Academy. Sophia dreams of continuing her education, but the only chance for her dream to come true is moving abroad, which she does after fictitious marriage with Vladimir Kovalevsky, who is eight years older. Her parents dislike her husband, despite his good education and a book house. Soon after becoming a married woman, Sophia Vasilievna starts attending lectures on natural science, but finds them of no interest, while her husband falls in love with paleontology and becomes a prominent expert in this field of science, publishing famous scientific articles of his own.


In 1869 Sophia and Vladimir move to Europe, taking Sophia’s elder sister Anna with them. They spend there five years, moving from Vienna to Berlin and Heidelberg, where Sophia Kovalevskaya attends physical and mathematical lectures and becomes the student of Karl Weierstrass, who agrees to give her private lessons (women weren’t allowed to enter Berlin University) and helps her to complete her most significant works.

In 1874 Sophia finishes the University of Gottingen, becoming Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics, on the basis of her three works, and the same year Sophia and Vladimir return to Russia. However, despite Bestuzhev Higher Courses for Women open in Saint Petersburg’s university that autumn, Sophia and her husband fail to find science-related job, and in 1876 Sophia becomes a political writer, contributing to “Novoye Vremya (New Time)” newspaper. When her father dies, Sophia inherits 30 000 rubles, and for some time she and her husband live in a kind of material security.

In 1878 Sophia Vasilievna gives birth to her daughter Sophia, named after her mother. Sophia’s family lives in Saint Petersburg, getting money from renting flats and houses, while madam Kovalevskaya continues her scientific studies, making a report on VI Congress of medics and natural scientists about Abelian integrals. At the same time Sophia’s husband looses all his money and business and finally commits suicide in 1883.


Sophia Vasilievna finds herself without money, but in 1883 university of Stockholm invites the mathematician to read lecture course in math, which she begins in 1884 and continues for seven years. She also becomes a member of Swedish “Acta Mathematica” magazine. Sophia Kovalevskaya’s life starts to settle down in a new large and tidy flat, where she welcomes famous people – professors, astronomers and writers.

In 1887 Sophia Vasilievna meets her love Maxim Kovalevsky, who accidentally has the same family name as she does. Maxim works as a teacher in Moscow University, and rooms during his lectures are also overcrowded, however, he is suspended from teaching due some political reasons and leaves Moscow for abroad.

In 1887 Sophia Kovalevskaya takes part in the Bordeaux and Laurent physical and mathematical contest, trying to “find further improvement of rotation in some significant site”. Sophia almost fails to finish the work before the deadline, but she does her best and wins. Award ceremony for the Russian mathematician takes place in Paris Academy of Sciences in 1888. Laurent Fund invites Professor Kovalevsky to Stockholm to read a course of lectures, and Sophia Vasilievna falls in love at a glance. However, two bright personalities cannot live together – they quarrel and lose mutual understanding, thus they decide to take a time out – to live separately for sometime and to calm down. In 1890 the pair reunites, and they spend their après-marriage months in Nice and Genoa. Alas – happiness never lasts long – Sophia Kovalevskaya catches a cold on her way from Italy to Sweden and is snatched away by premature death of pneumonia on February 10, 1891

    Math Genealogy


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