18 9 / 2012
Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) was an Italian mathematician who wrote the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was also an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna.
Maria was born in Milan to a wealthy family. She was recognized early as a child prodigy. When she was 9 years old, she composed and delivered an hour-long speech in Latin to some of the most distinguished intellectuals of the day. By her thirteenth birthday she had acquired Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, Latin, and was referred to as the “Walking Polyglot”. Maria was shy by nature and did not like all these public meetings. Around 15, she devoted her study to differential and integral calculus and avoided all social interactions. She also taught her siblings.
She wrote the book Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana, published in 1748. The first volume discusses the analysis of finite quantities and the second of the analysis of infinitesimals.
In 1750, she was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy and physics at Bologna. She was the first women appointed as a mathematics professor at a university. After the death of her father in 1752 she took to the study of theology and devoted herself to the poor, homeless, and sick. After holding for some years the office of director of the Hospice Trivulzio for Blue Nuns at Milan, she herself joined the sisterhood.
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