Against All Odds: Women's Ways to Mathematical Research Since 1800

Amphi Darboux (IHP)

Amphi Darboux



Virginia Woolf once famously claimed that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf: A Room of One’s one, 1929, p. 4). Since most women depended economically on a male figure, whether a husband or father, they lacked such means; this, in Woolf’s eyes, provided an explanation for the small number of female authors up until her day. Clearly, just as was the case with careers in literature, so with mathematics; there were only a few female mathematicians before the middle of the twentieth century. Even today, far fewer women than men hold professorships in mathematics. Thus, our séminaire raises an analogous question: What did and does it take for a woman to become a mathematician?

Like Woolf, we will look at historic examples first, before discussing how historical implications have continued into the present and still shape the view on female mathematicians and influence their presence in faculties worldwide. We will also discuss the role of external conditions, networks, and associations in both discouraging or empowering women to pursue a career in mathematics.

    • 10:00 AM 10:20 AM
      Introduction 20m
      Speaker: Nicola Oswald (Université de Wuppertal)
    • 10:20 AM 11:10 AM
      Too female to do mathematics? Scholars’ and journalists’ views on Sophie Germain (1870-1910) 50m

      The under-representation of women in scientific academic careers is regularly highlighted in reports from official bodies. Mathematics is a discipline where this disparity is particularly strong. The hypotheses explaining this situation are manifold and are based on institutional, social and cultural factors. To a certain extent, it is possible to draw parallels between some of these hypotheses and the discourse on women in science and mathematics in the Third Republic in France, at a time when the debates on the question of women were growing and becoming more diverse. The aim of this presentation is to analyse, through the figure of the mathematician Sophie Germain, the arguments exchanged in France from the 1870s to the 1910s on the capacity of women to practice mathematics and on the advantages and disadvantages of women becoming mathematicians. I will use a collection of scientific texts and articles from daily and weekly newspapers, women’s magazines and popular magazines on the subject of women. I will be particularly interested in the place of mathematics in scientific discourses about women and how biographical accounts of women mathematicians are used in this context.

      Speaker: Jenny Boucard (Université de Nantes)
    • 11:10 AM 12:00 PM
      The Klumpke Sisters: From Women’s University Studies to having a Career before the Great War? 50m

      While much has been published about the first female students of the long 19th century, such studies seldom assess these women’s subsequent careers. By contrasting two women who studied and later worked in the so-called STEM-disciplines with two in the artistic professions, this talk intends to raise interdisciplinary questions about professional opportunities of women with university degrees during this period. Interestingly enough, the women in question—Anna (1856-1942), Augusta (1859-1927), Dorothea (1861-1942), and Julia Klumpke (1870-1961)—were sisters. Born into an American family, they all attended university in Paris; they studied painting, medicine, mathematics, and music, respectively. Perhaps most surprising of all, each went on to work in her respective field until retirement age.
      An analysis of the Klumpke sisters reveal not only how women were able to access a university education, but also what women’s subsequent employment opportunities in varying disciplines were before 1913. Because Augusta, Dorothea, and Anna worked in close collaboration with their spouses, whereas Julia remained unmarried, I will also review the extent to which marriage or romantic partnership helped or hindered women who wished to conduct scientific or artistic work during the long 19th century. Finally, by comparing their unusual lives with female mathematicians, physicians, and artists from this period, this approach may help to widen our understanding of what “having a career” in contrast to “working” actually meant for women across disciplines and localities.

      Speaker: Eva Kaufholz-Soldat (Université de Francfort)
    • 2:00 PM 2:50 PM
      Women in Mathematics today. Being the odd one out in a department and part of a network on a global Scale 50m

      Even within Europe, the number (and fraction) of women among mathematicians varies more than one would perhaps expect. The EWM, European Women in Mathematics, has some of the data, but not the answers to why or how to change it. In recent years, networks of women in mathematical subjects have emerged: Women in Numbers, WiN, Women in Topology, WiT, Women in Applied Math, WhAM, Women in Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing, WINASC, and many others. This seems to be part of a solution.

      Speaker: Lisbeth Fajstrup (Université de Aalborg)
    • 2:50 PM 4:00 PM
      Table de ronde 1h 10m
      Speakers: Eva Kaufholz-Soldat (Université de Francfort), Isabelle Lémonon, Jenny Boucard (Université de Nantes), Lisbeth Fajstrup (Université de Aalborg), Nicola Oswald (Université de Wuppertal), Sylvie Benzoni