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Séminaire d'Histoire des Mathématiques de l'IHP

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

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.