Maria Gaetana Agnesi
Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born on 16th May 1718. She was an Italian philosopher and mathematician credited with writing the first book that discusses integral and differential calculus.
In addition to this, she was also an honorary faculty member at the University of Bologna. The last 4 decades of her life were dedicated to study of theology especially patristic, charitable work and serving the poor. Her work also included helping the sick by opening her home, where she had set up a hospital to them.
Born in a literate, wealthy family in Milan, her father Pietro Agnesi was a mathematics professor at the University of Bologna and he had plans of elevating his family into Milanese nobility. From an early age, it was clear that Maria was a prodigy child because at the age of 5 years, she could speak both French and Italian.
By the eleventh birthday, she had learned Greek, Spanish, Latin, German and Spanish and was commonly known as the ‘7 tongued orator’. Maria educated her younger brothers and at the age of 9, she composed and delivered a Latin speech that ran for one hour on the right of women to be educated. The speech was the most distinguished intellectual of that time.
Maria made great contributions in the field of mathematics and while this is the case, she was not the typical famous mathematician. Her life was simple and she gave mathematics up very early. By the time she reached her teens, Maria had mastered mathematics and her home was the gathering destination for the most distinguished intellectuals of that time.
Maria actively participated in the seminars held in her home by engaging with guests in abstract mathematical and philosophical discussions. She was a shy child and never liked the meetings but she participated in them in order to please her father till the death of her mother. Upon the death of her mother, Maria found an excuse to excuse herself from public life and took over the management of the home and it is probably because of this fact that she never got married.
While she retired from public life, Maria did not give up her love for mathematics and in 1738, she published a collection of complex essays on philosophy and natural science known as Propositiones Philisophicae which was based on some of the discussions she held with intellectuals who gathered at her father’s home.
In most of her essays, Maria strongly expressed her conviction that women should be educated. She began her most important work which was Analytical Institutions at the age of 25 and it dealt with integral and differential calculus. After establishing various hospices, Maria died on 9th January 1799 in one of the poorhouses she once directed.
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