Maria Gaetana Agnesi
1718-1799
Philosophy of Mathematics, Feminism



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Chronology

1718 – Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born on May 16 in Milan, Italy. She was the first of 21 children in her family (not all of the same mother since her father remarried on the death of Maria's mother.) Her father did much to encourage (prod) Maria to excel in intellectual accomplishments.

1723 – A child prodigy she was speaking both Italian and French by the age of 5. By the age of 13 she spoke Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German and Latin.

1727 At the age of 9 she composed and delivered an hour long speech in Latin on the right of a woman to be educated as were her young brothers. This work, "Oratio qua ostenditur artium liberalium studia femineo sexu neutiquam abhorrere" was printed at Milan in 1727.

1793 Her father hosted a circle of the most learned men in Bologna at his home and Maria often put forth and defended theses in philosophy before this group. These meeting were recorded and published in 1738 under the titles Lettres sur l'Italie and in the Propositiones Philosophicae by Charles de Brosses (Her father financed the publication.)

1738 Maria Gaetana Agnesi expressed a desire to enter a convent. Her father would not allow it. But after the death of her mother, he allowed her to live in semi-retirement and discontinued the meetings of learned men. Maria took over management of the household. She was given the task of educating her brothers and sisters. – a task that took a great deal of her time and energy but she did continue to study mathematics.

1748 saw the publication of Analytical Institutions which stirred the world of mathematics since it was one of the first and most complete works on finite and infinitesimal analysis. After this she was elected to the Bologna Academy of Sciences. The university sent her a diploma and her name was added to the faculty. Maria Gaetana Agnesi wrote this work in Italian rather than Latin so it would be more accessible to young Italians.

1750 She was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV to teach mathematics in the University of Bologna, but she never went to Bologna to teach. She treated the appointment as honorary.

1752 Her father died. Maria began an earnest study of theology and the Fathers of the Church.

After serving as the Directory of the Hospice Trivulzion of the Blue Nuns in Milan for several years, she finally joined that order.

1799. Maria Gaetana Agnesi died on January 9, 1799. She was 81 years old. She had worked in the fields of language, mathematics and philosophy as well as devoting much of life to the spiritual pursuits.

Bibliography

1738 Propositiones Philosophicae

1748 Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana

Commentary on Traité analytique des sections coniques du Marquis de l'Hôpital

Secondary sources:

Anzoletti, Luisa. Maria Gaetane Agnesi. Milan: L.F. Cogliati, 1990.

Gray, S.I.B. and Tagui Malakyan. "The Witch of Agnesi: A Lasting Contribution from the First Surviving Mathematical Work Written by a Woman," College Mathematics Journal, 30(4) (Sept. 1999), 258-268.

Mazzotti, Massimo . The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, mathematician of God. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2007

Web resource Maria Gaetana Agnesi

Maria Agnesi is among more than 100 women philosophers featured in A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers photo album

This page was last updated 12/13/14.

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers

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