"It is the birthday of one of the first well-known female mathematicians of the Western world. Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in Milan (1718). Her father, Pietro, was a wealthy businessman and her mother, Anna Fortunata Brivio, was an aristocrat whom her father married to raise his status in Milan society.
Maria was a brilliant child. By age five, she spoke French as well as her native Italian. A few years later, she was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and her family called her the “Walking Polyglot.” At age nine, she addressed a group of academics in Latin on the subject of women’s rights and access to education, and soon she was leading complex philosophical discussions between her father and his scholarly friends. She also began to pursue mathematics.
Maria was shy and devout, and she longed to give up her public speaking and enter a convent. Her religious aspirations were dashed, however, when her mother died and she was left in charge of the household and the care of her many siblings.
She maintained her interest in math and philosophy. In 1738, she published Propositiones Philosophicae, a collection of essays based on the talks she gave to her father’s circle of friends. That same year, she began working on a math textbook that she could use to teach math to her siblings. But the book grew into more than just a teaching tool. In it she wrote an equation for a specific bell-shaped curve that is still used today and is known — because of mistranslation of the Italian by a British mathematician — as the “Witch of Agnesi.” Analytical Institutions, which was published in 1748, was highly regarded in academic circles for synthesizing complex mathematical ideas with clarity and precision.
Analytical Institutions and the articulation of the Witch of Agnesi earned her a spot in the Bologna Academy of Sciences. But by that time, she had abandoned mathematics and devoted herself to charity work. When asked a decade later what she thought of recent developments in calculus, she said she was “no longer concerned with such interests.” She was eventually appointed director of a home for ill and infirm women, and she spent the rest of her life caring for the dying until her own death in 1799."
— http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2013/05/16 (via tumblngphilopoet)
"Today is the birthday of journalist Nellie Bly (books by this author), born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania (1864). When she was 16, her family moved to Pittsburgh, where she read an editorial in The Pittsburgh Dispatch titled “What Girls are Good For.” (The paper’s answer was “not much,” at least, not outside the home.) She wrote a furious reply and signed it “Little Orphan Girl.” The editor was so impressed that he invited her in and offered her a job. She took it, and she borrowed the name “Nellie Bly” from a Stephen Foster song to use as her pen name.
Unlike most female journalists of the time, she didn’t write about fashion or gardening, though. She wrote about the poor, and the way women were exploited in factories, sometimes posing as a sweatshop worker to report from the inside, which made companies nervous. They threatened to pull their advertising, so she was demoted to a beat that was deemed more suitable for a lady. She turned in her letter of resignation along with her story. She went to New York in 1887, and after several months with no job prospects, she talked her way into an opportunity with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Her assignment was to cover the notorious Blackwell’s Island Women’s Lunatic Asylum, and she went undercover, convincing doctors and judges that she was mentally ill. She was committed to the asylum and lived there in appalling conditions for 10 days. She wrote: “I have watched patients stand and gaze longingly toward the city they in all likelihood will never enter again. It means liberty and life; it seems so near, and yet heaven is not further from hell.”
In 1914, she went to work for the New York Evening Journal as America’s first female war correspondent. She wrote from the front lines of World War I for almost five years. She returned Stateside in 1919 and died of pneumonia in 1922."
Nellie Bly (books by this author)
"It’s the birthday of the Shoshone woman Sacajawea, born in Idaho sometime around 1789. She was kidnapped at age 10 by the Hidatsa tribe, sold into slavery, and bought by a French-Canadian trapper who made her one of his two wives. When Lewis and Clark hired the trapper to guide them to the Pacific, Sacajawea — a teenager with her two-month-old baby on her back — was part of the deal. She was the only woman to accompany the permanent party to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Officially she acted as interpreter, since she could speak half a dozen Indian languages. But she also knew which plants were edible, and she saved the explorers’ records when their boat overturned. In his notes, William Clark pointed out that tribes were inclined to believe that their party was friendly when they saw Sacajawea because a war party would never travel with a woman, especially one with a baby.
When the trip was over, Sacajawea received nothing. Her trapper husband got $500.33 and 320 acres of land. She died on December 22, 1812, of a “putrid fever,” according to Clark’s records. She was 23. Eight months later, Clark legally adopted her two children — the boy who had been a baby on the expedition, Jean Baptiste, and an infant daughter, Lisette."