Person: Litvinova, Elizaveta
Elizaveta Litvinova was the second woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. A competent mathematician, she was denied the possibility to teach and research at high levels in Russia. She was a friend of Sofia Kovalevskaya and wrote a biography of her and of other mathematicians. She also wrote around 70 articles on teaching mathematics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- We must not give a false impression here by suggesting that the Mariinskaya Women's Gymnasium gave Elizaveta a good education.
- Elizaveta was attracted to these beliefs, which were even held by a few of the teachers at the Mariinskaya Women's Gymnasium.
- These early nihilists formed discussion groups which Elizaveta joined.
- They believed that their radical views were the only way to improve society, and soon Elizaveta was writing radical poetry.
- Elizaveta attended these classes but realised how poorly prepared the students were.
- In 1866 Elizaveta was taking private lessons in St Petersburg with Aleksandr Nikolayevich Strannoliubskii (1839-1903), who had taught Sofia Kovalevskaya.
- He advised Litvinova to continue her studies abroad and she was keen to do so.
- Litvinova continued to study with Strannoliubskii and by 1870 acquired a certificate of competency which allowed her to study at university.
- Litvinova's marriage seems hard to understand.
- Many of the Russian women she had known had travelled to Zurich for higher education and been successful there so Litvinova decided to take that option.
- Most of the Russian women studying in Zurich were attending courses at the University but Litvinova chose to study at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule.
- Litvinova's lot was even harder than most.
- Hermann Schwarz, in particular, went out of his way by giving Litvinova private lessons in his home and one summer he repeated a course of lectures, which he had delivered to a class before she arrived, for her alone.
- While Litvinova was in Zurich, Sofia Kovalevskaya, who was undertaking research in Berlin at this time, visited Zurich.
- Litvinova writes that at this time Kovalevskaya was worried that the news that Karl Weierstrass would become rector of Berlin was making her think he might not have time to supervise her studies and she thought she might have to switch to Hermann Schwarz.
- Most of the students obeyed the decree and returned but Litvinova, encouraged to stay by Hermann Schwarz, was one of only a handful who disobeyed and she continued with her studies.
- Litvinova went to Bern where her research advisor was Ludwig Schläfli.
- Litvinova returned to St Petersburg in 1878 with a baccalaureate, a doctorate and a certificate qualifying her to teach in boys' gymnasia.
- Several women who had been awarded a baccalaureate from Zurich became teachers at the Institution but despite Litvinova wishing to teach there and being best qualified, she was not appointed.
- The Princess A A Obolenskaya Gymnasium had opened in November 1870 and Aleksandr Nikolayevich Strannoliubskii, who had taught Litvinova before she left for Zurich, had been a mathematics teacher there in the 1870s and developed the curriculum.
- Since she was hardly paid enough to live on, Litvinova was forced to find other ways to earn some extra money.
- Litvinova's biography of Sofia Kovalevskaya is particularly interesting in that it gives us some information about how Litvinova felt regarding her own situation.
- Litvinova became a member of the St Petersburg Mathematical Society in 1897, and in 1901 she became a member of the St Petersburg Philosophical Society.
- It is believed that Litvinova must have died in the famine for certainly there is no trace of her after this.
- Litvinova's contribution to mathematics was twofold: as a proponent of advanced pedagogical methods and an inspiration to her students, some of whom went on to become scientists, and as a disseminator of information about cultural, social, and other issues, which, in an era of heavy censorship, she introduced into her biographical works.
Born 21 September 1845, Tula, Russia. Died 1919, St Petersburg, Russia.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Origin Russia, Women
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive