Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891) was the world’s first female professor of mathematics. She taught at Stockholm University, where she was awarded a Professorial Chair. Born in Russia, she entered into a marriage of convenience with Vladimir Kovalevsky at the age of 18. He was a follower of Russian nihilist thinkers, and supported their ideas of emancipation and education for women. As a married woman, Kovalevskaja was able to travel and study abroad.
In 1869, Heidelberg University accepted her application as its first female student. She studied mathematics with Leo Koenigsberger and, on his suggestion, moved to Berlin. Because women were not allowed to study there, she was able to convince Karl Weierstrass, one of the most renowned German mathematicians of the era, to tutor her privately. With his support, she was awarded a doctorate in absentia – meaning without an oral exam – from Göttingen University. The 24-year-old graduated summa cum laude. The topic of her dissertation was “The Theory of Partial Differential Equations”.