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Two Feminist Mathematicians in the Time of Euler. By Laura Printz Hood College. Maria Agnesi. Emilie du Ch â telet. The Year of Euler. 18 th Century: The Age of Enlightenment. Scientific and intellectual developments International System of Thought Philosophy. Rousseau.

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two feminist mathematicians in the time of euler

Two Feminist Mathematiciansin the Time of Euler

By Laura Printz

Hood College

Maria Agnesi

Emilie du Châtelet

18 th century the age of enlightenment
18th Century: The Age of Enlightenment
  • Scientific and intellectual developments
  • International System of Thought
  • Philosophy



the debate of the academy of the ricovrati
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
education in europefor women
  • Options:
    • Convents
    • Salons
    • Tutors
maria gaetana agnesi 1718 1799
mariagaetanaagnesi (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
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
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
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 ch telet 1706 1749 was a great man whose only fault was being a woman voltaire
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
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
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
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
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 Châtelet-
    • translated 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!




“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
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
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.