Sophia Kovalevsky

Sophia KovalevskySophia Kovalevsky
Russian Mathematician and Author
1850 – 1891 A.D.

Sophia Kovalevsky, better known under her pen name, Sonya, a Russian mathematician and author, born in Moscow, Daughter of General Corvin-Krukovsky.

As a young girl she was fired by the aspiration after intellectual liberty that animated so many young Russian women at that period, and drove them to study at foreign universities, since their own were closed to them. This led her, in 1868, to contract one of those conventional marriages in vogue at the time, with a young student Waldemar Kovalevsky, and the two went together to Germany to continue their studies.

At Heidelberg in Berlin her progress was rapid, and she astounded the learned professors by her lucid and original solutions of the problems that at the time engaged their most advanced pupils. In 1874 she received the degree of Ph.D. at the University of Göttingen, and some years later, her husband becoming involved in speculations, the couple parted. His death, which followed shortly, was a crushing blow to her, and she resumed scientific work only after a lingering illness.

In 1884 she was appointed professor of higher analysis at the University of Stockholm, and while holding this position she received the Bordin Prize of 5,000 francs from the Paris Academy of Sciences, for one of her notable mathematical essays.

Besides contributing many important papers to scientific periodicals, she had literary talents and in 1877 wrote The Privatdocent – a sketch from the life of a small university town – which met with hearty reception. Her Recolections of Childhood aroused widespread attention, and in Sweden she formed an intimate friendship with Anne Lefflet, a striking figure in Scandinavian letters. they had a strong influence upon each other, and of several works written in collaboration, A Struggle for Happiness is the most characteristic. It is a panegyric of love as the mainspring of complete life, and the heroine, Alice, who seeks for it in vain, as Kovalevsky herself.

In one of her periods of despair she caught a severe cold, but paid no attention to it, and attended to her lectures almost until her death from pneumonia, February 10, 1891, just as she had attained the height of her fame and had won recognition even in her own country by election to the membership of the St. Petersburg Academy of Science.


Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.

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