I inherited a passion for science from my ancestor, Hungarian king Mattias Corvin, my love for mathematics, music, and poetry from my mother’s grandfather, the astronomer Schubert; [...] from my Gypsy great-grandmother – my love for vagrancy [...] the rest – from Russia.
The author of these lines is the world's first female professor of mathematics, Sofya Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya. It is rumored that when her parents' house was being renovated, there was not enough wallpaper for the nursery, and one of the walls was covered with sheets from a math textbook. Sofya got carried away: she was constantly adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing something. Her father was upset: why would a girl need science? Her purpose had to be marriage, children... In 1860s, it was impossible for a female to enter a university in Russia. To go abroad, the girl entered a fictitious marriage with Vladimir Kovalevsky, a natural science student. The fictitious marriage eventually turned into a real one, although not very happy. But this happened later, when Sophia had already attended lectures in Heidelberg and Berlin and defended her PhD thesis at the University of Göttingen. According to her Berlin teacher, the father of modern mathematical analysis, Karl Weierstrass, three excellent works were enough to forgive that she belonged to the fair sex. Kovalevskaya dreamed of working in Russia. But in what position? All graduates of foreign universities were offered to teach arithmetic in lower grades. “Unfortunately, I'm not very good with the multiplication table,” Sofya Vasilyevna joked sadly. And after overcoming lots of troubles, she went to Stockholm. There, Professor Kovalevskaya had to give lectures in Swedish from the second year of her work. She managed: she learned Swedish so well that she began to write in it – both scientific and literary works. And after receiving two prestigious awards from the Paris and Swedish Academies of Sciences, Sofya Kovalevskaya was recognized at home and elected a corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Sofya Vasilyevna did not manage to return to her homeland and become an academician – she caught a cold and died.