Women in Mathematics Essay

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History. It is one of the most important things in life, to know what people in the past have done and created is beautiful; a person can always learn more about life and the world by learning from their ancestors. Misogyny. It is one of the world’s greatest mistakes, there have been intelligent and profound women throughout history; However, the hatred and contempt against women forced them to hide who they were in the past. Women have always been equal to men, even if people did not agree, and they have made some of the most important discoveries for the world. Without the women, mathematics today would not be the same, or it would have just taken a longer period of time for men to make their discoveries.

The access of women into the scientific world, especially to the mathematics has not been easy. When people think about important mathematicians, they generally come up with names such as Pythagoras, Descartes, Euler, Newton or Gauss. It is very unlikely for Hypatia of Alexandria, Emmy Nether or Sophie Germain to be thought of at all. It is true that men had impacts in mathematics, however, their paths were much easier. These women had to surpass many barriers and go against what everyone at the time thought in order to become mathematicians. They had to work harder than any man had to in order to be taken seriously and be allowed to pursue their passions.

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Women were not allowed to study because it was believed that women were only alive to reproduce and take care of their families. The idea, that men were intellectually superior to women, comes from ideologies, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution. According to Darwin’s theory, women were less evolved than men. Due to their smaller brains they were eternally primitive, foolish, less spiritual and more materialistic; They were seen as a threat to contemporary civilizations. The supposed intelligence gap that many leading Darwinist believed existed between men and women was so prominent that some men saw them as to different species. This theory had a great impact on the way women were treated and seen in society. It was incredibly difficult for most women to receive an advanced education before the eighteen hundreds. Some women, such as Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, went as far as dressing up as men in order to attend college classes. Most women did not have the opportunities of going to college and were seen as evil if they tried.

One of the most important women throughout mathematics and astronomy was Hypatia of Alexandria. She was known for her work on the ideas of conic sections, which had been introduced by Apollonius. She did work on algebraic equations and made great contributions to the astrolabe which was used in ship navigation. She was the last of the great philosophers of her time and the first women to leave her mark in mathematics. Hypatia of Alexandria was born between 355 and 370 in Alexandria Egypt. She was the daughter and disciple of Theon, a notable astronomer and illustrated mathematician of the Museum, which was an institution founded by Ptolemy dedicated to research and teaching. Hypatia was educated in an academic and cultured environment, her father taught her everything that he knew and inspired her passion for the search of the unknown. She stood out as a student, she gained knowledge quickly and dedicated herself to sciences and mathematics from a very young age; She cultivated several disciplines: philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and music.

Her father, who wanted Hypatia to be well-versed, intelligent and cultured, sent her abroad to study in Athens, Greece. While she was there, she established her fame as a mathematician and began her journey as a philosopher. When she returned to Alexandria, she began to teach mathematics and philosophy alongside her father at the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria. She is recognized as the one of the first mathematical women of whom the world has knowledge and she became a representative of the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria after teaching at the school. She worked in logical studies and science, flowing the works of the roman philosopher Plotinus. While she was a teacher she began to lecture on Diophantus’ “Arithmetica”. She discussed the techniques that Diophantus developed, solved his indeterminate problems and added on to his studies with her own discoveries. Her lectures on Diophantus, Plato and Aristotle soon became wildly known and people traveled from all around the world to hear her speak about these prominent men. While she was teaching and lecturing, she also worked on and wrote several treaties. She wrote commentaries on “The Conics of Apollonius”, “Amagast”, her own fathers edition of Euclid’s “Elements” and many more. Her commentaries changed the way that many people saw these studies and influenced the concepts form the passages. She initially began to write the commentaries s in order to help her students understand difficult math concepts, however she continued to work on them after she stopped teaching and lecturing.

Hypatia was known primarily for her work on the ideas of comic sections introduced by Apollonius. “The Conics of Apollonius” is a work that divides a cone into sections through the use of a plane. The three types of conic section still in use today, and that are extremely important in geometry and calculus, include hyperbolas, parabolas and ellipses. Hypatia’s commentaries on “The Conics of Apollonius’ made the concept clearer and easier to understand. It led to the development t of the concepts and its survival throughout time. Due to her work she was responsible for the theories importance in geometry and algebra, and development through the course of time. The original concept had been too difficult to understand, if she had not written her commentaries, so that others could also understand it, the concept would not have been developed and it most likely would not have survived through the era.

The creation of the astrolabe is another one of her incredible accomplishments. Even though many try to discredit her and say that Hipparchus invented the astrolabe. However, Hypatia’s letters with her most famous pupil, Synesius of Cyrene, are proof that in reality Hypatia of Alexandria was the creator of the astrolabe. In the letters Synesius credits Hypatia with creating the astrolabe and planisphere. The astrolabe is a two-dimensional model of the celestial sphere. It was used as a multipurpose astronomical instrument and was vital for ship navigation in the past. Hypatia was also credited for other instruments which were responsible for distilling water, measuring the levels of water and the pressure of liquids.

Due to Hypatia’s importance in the intellectual world and discoveries in mathematics, astronomy and sciences she was seen as a menace in the world by some people. Many of the early Christians considered Hypatia’s philosophy and science were rooted to paganism, which led to many people discarding her ideas and influence. Even though she was considered intelligent and important during her time, some people in the society still believed that she was going against the nature of women. In 412, when Cyril became the patriarch of Egypt, Hypatia’s life was on the line. Cyril persuaded people that because of Hypatia’s friendship with Orestes, who was the perfect for Egypt, she was causing a disturbance and was essentially dangerous. Cyril encouraged a group of religious extremists that the death of Hypatia was the only thing that would improve Egypt’s standing in the world and it would influence Egypt’s prosperity. The extremist wanted her dead and they believed that once she had been murdered Egypt would once again be at peace. The group captured Hypatia while she was on her way to the university, they dragged her out of her chariot and took her to a church. While at the church they stripped her naked, cut her up into small pieces and proceeded to burn her body. It was symbolism to burning the evil out of her, it was very similar to the way that women were killed during witch trials. They believed that the only way to get the demon out of the corrupt and dishonorable women was to burn it out of her. Men and women alike did not want to believe that women were worth anything more than childbirth. People’s fear of intelligent women and their misogynistic ideals led them to become cold blooded murderers.

Throughout history women were not valued and their intellectual abilities were seen as wicked and unforgivable. The women that tried to break those ideals were then seen as demonic beings that plagued the earth. Women that were not up to society’s standards and views on women were shunned and treated badly by the majority of the population. Only in recent times have we seen advancements in women’s standing in society; However, in the past it was not seen as decent for a woman to want higher education none the less be more intelligent than a man. Hypatia is only one example of a strong women that went against society to follow her passion of mathematics and sciences. However, Hypatia was fortunate to have a father that idolized education and wanted her to be intellectually advanced. There were many women that did not have supporting parents that helped the find an education. These women had to lose their families and the approval of society in order to pursue their passions. Women have the same ability to become outstanding intellectuals, however women are given less opportunities to do so. The misogyny that is seen throughout history is heinous. The preconceptions that society had about women and what they could or could not do was loathsome. Misogyny changed the course of history, females make up over half of the population; If they had been allowed to contribute to society sooner much more could have been discovered. Even though there were many women that did go against the odds many more were fearful of being looked down upon and were stuck living a life they most likely despised. Over the course of history countless women throughout history that made advancements in mathematics and incredible discoveries that are still prevalent today. Their names might not be known by all and might not be taught in all schools, but they are important and without them mathematics would not be the same today.

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