Math Storytelling Day
September 25th is Math Storytelling Day! Didn't know that was a holiday? Then you must not have our awesome STEM Holiday e-Calendar :). You can get still get your free copy using the signup box at the bottom of our homepage!
In honor of Math Storytelling Day, we are telling the amazing story of mathematician Sophie Germain, a true Bezlo Girl whose story should never go untold.
Sophie Germain was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher who proved more than just number theory proofs...she proved that women were capable of being brilliant mathematicians too. At the time that she lived, girls and women were not allowed to have a formal education. She had to read the books in her father's library to feed her curiosity for math.
One day, she read a book called The History of Mathematics. She was fascinated by the story of Archimedes, a Greek mathematician. Legend has it that during the invasion by the Roman army, Archimedes refused to listen to the demands of a Roman soldier because he was in the middle of studying an interesting geometric figure. As a result, he was speared to death. This story sparked Sophie's curiosity for mathematics; she just had to find out how math could be so interesting!
Sophie became so devoted to learning math that she learned Latin and Greek to read the works of famous mathematicians Isaac Newton and Leonhard Euler. Nothing could get in Sophie's way; not even her own parents who disapproved of her studying. She spent many nights reading by candlelight while her parents were sleeping. We like to think she loved reading about math as much as Belle loved reading in Beauty and the Beast ;).
When Sophie was 18, a new university opened in Paris. Since women were not allowed to attend, Sophie registered under a man's name, Monsieur Antoine-August Le Blanc. Without ever going to class in person, she was able to study by reviewing the lecture notes. When her teacher asked to meet with his student, he finally discovered Sophie's true identity as a woman. However, he continued to be her mentor because of her unique mathematical talents.
Sophie Germain worked with many famous mathematicians through handwritten letters, still using the male name M. Le Blanc. When one of these mathematicians, Carl Friedrich Gauss, finally found out that she was a woman, he responded:
“How can I describe my astonishment and admiration on seeing my esteemed correspondent M. Le Blanc metamorphosed […] When a woman, because of her sex, our customs and prejudices, encounters infinitely more obstacles than men in becoming acquainted with these complex problems, yet overcomes these barriers and penetrates that which is most hidden, she is undoubtedly endowed with the most noble courage, extraordinary talent, and superior genius.”
It is clear that even the most talented mathematicians of her time recognized Sophie's gifts. But she was continuously denied opportunities and recognition simply because she was a woman.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris would not have been built without her contributions to the study of elasticity. Engraved on the tower are the names of 72 male architects who contributed to its construction (these names can still be seen on the Eiffel Tower today. Can you spot where they are in the picture below?). However, Sophie Germain's name is not included, and we can all guess why. Even when she passed away, she still was not given the title of mathematician.
Sophie's story is perfect for Math Storytelling Day because it highlights the work and contributions of an amazing female mathematician who didn't get the credit she deserved while she was alive. We need to keep telling her story and make sure her legacy lives on so that she can inspire other girls and women to pursue their interests in mathematics, science, and whatever else they are most passionate about!
If you are looking for a picture book about her story, we recommend "Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain" by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Barbara McClintock. You can read her story over and over, and still get inspired each time!
Thanks for joining us on Math Storytelling Day! Keep your eyes peeled for future blog posts that celebrate other STEM Holidays. And don't worry; those dates are already marked on your Hello Bezlo e-Calendar ;).