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Maria Agnesi
Italian Algebraist, Geometer and Logician.

Background:

Maria Agnesi (pronounced on-yay-zee) was born on May 16, 1718 in Milan, Italy and died January 9, 1799. Maria's father, Pietro was a mathematics professor and came from a wealthy family. Maria was considered to be one of the greatest woman scholars and the very first female mathematician for modern times. This came at a time when Europeans didn't see the value of education women.

Maria's dad recognized her as a child prodigy and made sure that Maria received an education from some of the finest tutors. She could speak both Italian and French by the age of 5 and by the age of 13, she was able to speak Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish and Latin. When Maria's mother died, Maria took it upon herself (Maria was the first born) to educate her brothers. As a result of tutoring and teaching her brothers, she developed a text for them which became the publication that made her famous. Although it took over ten years for her work to be published, it was the first surviving works to be done by a female. This two volume text was over 1000 pages in elementary and advanced mathematics. The first volume focuses on arithmetic, algebra, trig, analytic geometry and calculus. The second volume focused on more advanced topics: infinite series and differential equations.Maria Agnesi also became the first professor of mathematics in a university. Maria continued at the university until the death of her father in 1752. He was her inspiration in her pursuit of mathematics, after he died, she left math (perhaps retained it as a hobby) and devoted the rest of her life to the poor, homeless and sick.

Contributions:

  • Wrote and published the first comprehensive Calculus textbook.
  • 'Witch of Agnesi' Is a curve misnamed by John Colson. John name the curve when he mistook the word (versiera) 'curve' for a similar word which means 'witch'. The equation for this bell-shaped curve was given the name 'witch of Agnesi' and it stuck and can be found in some textbooks today.
  • 1738 she published Propositiones Philosophicae a series of essays on philosophy and natural science.
  • First woman to be appointed as professor at a university.

Famous Quote:

"It is marvelous to see a person of (Agnesi's) age so conversant with such abstract subjects."

---Author C. De Brosses

Recommended Reads :

Agnesi to Zeno: Over 100 Vignettes from the History of Math
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If you're fascinated or interested in biographies, you'll enjoy this collection of 'vignettes' about the many famous mathematicians. Excellent illustrations, comes complete with discussion points and blackline masters. Identifies the contributions made by the many great mathematicians throughout history. Offers suggestions for eliciting discussion. Especially useful for students in the 9th to 12th grades.

Remarkable Mathematicians: by Ioan James
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Ioan profiles 60 famous mathematicians who were born between 1700 and 1910 and provides insight to their remarkable lives and their contributions to the field of math. This text is organized chronologically and provides interesting information about the details of the mathematicians lives.

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