The name Sofya Kovalevskaya is not one that rolls off the tongue nor one that comes to mind when we look back at women whose stories inspire us. Despite adversity and discrimination from the scholars of her time, Kovalevskaya was eventually recognised for her talent and her pioneering work, and appointed as a professor in Mathematics at the University of Stockholm – the first woman to do so. Her work mainly focussed on the theory of differential equations which led to what is now known as the Cauchy-Kovalevsky theorem for analytic partial differential equations. Kovalevskaya was also a prolific writer and an advocate for women’s rights in the 1800s.
Sofya Krukovsky Kovalevskaya was born in 1850 into an affluent, noble Russian family. Also known as Sonya, she was interested in mathematics from a very young age. She was educated by tutors and governesses at her family estate. Her uncle, Pyotr Krokovsky is credited as being her first mentor and one that fed her curiosity. He relished in the opportunity to discuss many concepts and abstractions with her. Those that would meet Kovalevskaya were impressed with her innate capabilities and her passion for mathematics – it is said that as a young girl she asked her father to paper her bedroom walls with pages of lecture notes on differential and integral calculus!