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  • I Wrote The First Surviving Mathematical Work By A Woman

    Who Am I?

    By Anthony Parente

    I was born in the beautiful city of Milan on May 16, 1718. My father came from a wealthy family and he was a mathematics professor at the University of Bologna. At an early age my father realized I was a child prodigy and he made sure I was taught by some of the finest tutors. I was called by some people the "Walking Polyglot" because I mastered several languages by the age of 13. When I was nine years old I translated an article advocating advanced education for women from Italian to Latin. It was published two years later. My father was always inviting his colleagues over and I would debate them in a variety of subjects. In my years of debating I had written over 190 essays and in 1738 my father had them published under the title Propositiones philosophicae.

    After my mother died I took it upon myself to teach my younger brothers. In doing so I developed a textbook on mathematics for them to learn. This textbook developed into a 10 year project that resulted in a 2 volume set that was published under the title "Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana" in 1748. This 2 volume set, which covered elementary and advanced mathematics, consisted of over 1000 pages and was accompanied by plates, which had numbered illustrations on them so people could easily read the text while looking at the plates. This book became the first surviving mathematics publication by a woman.

    My book was so highly regarded that it was translated into a variety of languages. The English translation is the one that gave me much notoriety. My 2 volume work was translated by John Colson who mistakenly translated the word versiera to mean witch instead of curve. Thus my curve has become known as "The Witch of Agnesi". As a result of my work in mathematics I was appointed by Benedict XIV in 1750 to teach mathematics at the University of Bologna.

    Two years after my appointment my father passed away. I decided to leave the field of mathematics and turn my attention to helping the less fortunate. In 1771 I was asked by Archbishop Tozzobonelli to direct the Pio Instituto Trivulzio in Milan, which is a charitable hospice founded by the Blue Nuns. I directed the hospice until my death on January 9, 1799.

    I am considered one of the greatest woman scholars. I wrote the first mathematics book by a woman and I became the first woman appointed to teach mathematics at a university. For those of you who haven't figured out my identity I wish to introduce myself.

    My name is Maria Gaetana Agnesi and below you can find more information about my life and my accomplishments.

    Related Sites

    • The Living Witch of Agnesi
      This is an animated picture that shows how the curve is defined graphically.
    • Maria Gaetana Agnesi
      A brief biography from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
    • Maria Gaetana Agnesi
      This site is a collection of Agnesi miscellany, which includes a look at her life and accomplishments.
    • Maria Gaetana Agnesi
      This biography includes a collection of excerpts and quotes from materials written by and addressed to Maria.
    • Witch of Agnesi
      This includes a picture and mathematical formula for Agnesi's curve.

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