Archive for March 6th, 2023

Sofia Kovalevskya

March 6, 2023

Good morning!  In honor of Women’s History Month we are featuring Sonia Kovalevskya, the first woman to receive a (modern) doctorate in mathematics.

Sofia Vasilyevna Korvin-Krukovskaya was born on January 3, 1850 in Moscow, Russia, although her birthday is sometimes listed as January 15 (the equivalent date in the Gregorian Calendar, which Russia adopted in 1918).  Her name, too, is written many ways: Sophie, Sofia, Sofya, Sonia.  She grew up literally surrounded by mathematics: the walls of her room were covered in her dad’s Calculus notes from when he was a student. She wrote later:

The meaning of these concepts I naturally could not yet grasp, but they acted on my imagination, instilling in me a reverence for mathematics as an exalted and mysterious science which opens up to its initiates a new world of wonders, inaccessible to ordinary mortals.

Her parents were well off and she and her siblings had private tutors, but Sofia liked math so much that she ignored her other subjects and her dad put stop to the math studying.  Or tried to, at least – she studied on the sly after her parents had gone to bed.

Sofie wasn’t able to go to university in Russia, what with being female and all, so she married Vladimir Kowalevski (aka Kovalevskij or Kovalevsky) and they moved first to Austria and then to Germany where, because of her continuing femaleness, she still couldn’t take classes. She was, however, able to take private lessons from the mathematician Karl Weierstrass. She wrote several papers and with Weierstrass’s support [and influence at the University of Göttingen] was granted a well-earned doctorate. 

Sophie had a daughter Sofia (who was called Fufa), moved multiple times, and after the death of her husband, became a professor at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. She wrote mathematical papers, non-mathematical works, and was recognized for her contributions even in her lifetime.  Short as it was – she was only 41 years old when she passed away from pneumonia, a complication of the flu.  Many schools have hosted Sonia Kovalevsky Days in her honor, bringing her love of mathematics to new generations.


  • The Potential to Inspire by Laura P. Schaposnick (written in verse in both English and Spanish)
  • Wikipedia
  • MacTutor, which itself referenced her autobiography: A Russian childhood: Sofya Kovalevskaya
  • SK Days at the Association for Women in Mathematics