Sophie Germain (1776 – 1831)
When Paris exploded with revolution, young Sophie Germain retreated to her father’s study and began reading. After learning about the death of Archimedes, she began a lifelong study of mathematics and geometry, even teaching herself Latin and Greek so that she could read classic works. Unable to study at the École Polytechnique because she was female, Germain obtained lecture notes and submitted papers to Joseph Lagrange, a faculty member, under a false name. When he learned she was a woman, he became a mentor and Germain soon began corresponding with other prominent mathematicians at the time. Her work was hampered by her lack of formal training and access to resources that male mathematicians had at the time. But she became the first woman to win a prize from the French Academy of Sciences, for work on a theory of elasticity, and her proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, though unsuccessful, was used as a foundation for work on the subject well into the twentieth century.