Maria Gaetana Agnesi (16 May 1718 – 9 January 1799) was an
Italian mathematician, philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian. She was the
first woman appointed as a mathematics professor at a university (Bologna) and
the first woman to write a mathematics handbook. She spoke an incredible seven
languages by age eleven.
Growing up in a wealthy family, she had more opportunities
than most women at that time. She chose to study math because “experience-derived knowledge is fallible,” whereas math is
certain, provable, and not subject to interpretation.
She found the math texts of her time to be lacking, so she
wrote her own. Her text focused on both differential and integral calculus, and
it became widely used in maths educations across Europe for generations. One of her most notable mathematical achievements is the cubic
She devoted the last forty years of her life to charitable
causes and to serving the poor as well as to studying theology. She wrote
extensively about the connection between intellectualism and spirituality
“I hope my studies have brought glory to God … now I have found better
ways and means to serve others.” And serve others she did, founding a hospital in her hometown for the poor and the homeless. She
died at age 80 and was buried in a pauper’s grave as she had given all of her
money away to the causes she believed in.
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