National Science Foundation

The Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics ON THE AIR! website was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation under grant number HRD-0332765. The site was redesigned under grant number HRD-0833247 to be fully accessible to people with disabilities. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and the people or subjects covered in each radio segment featured and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

EMILIE DU CHATELET

Her-Story: Then & Now

HER-STORY: THEN

EMILIE DU CHATELET

   Read Now Transcript

(1706-1749) IN A TIME AND PLACE WHERE A WOMAN'S FUTURE DEPENDS ON HER COURTING ABILITIES, WHAT DO YOU DO WITH - AN UGLY DAUGHTER? EDUCATE HER! SHE JUST MIGHT GROW UP TO BE A GROUNDBREAKING MATHEMATICIAN! EMILIE DU CHATELET DID. AND BY THE WAY - HER LOVE LIFE WASN'T TOO SHABBY EITHER.

Born to a wealthy Parisian family in 1706, Emilie's father thought she would never receive a marriage proposal. He supplied Emilie with tutors in Latin, in Italian and in English, even classical philosophy. But Emilie was most passionate about mathematics. One by one she exhausted her tutors. Her questions outpaced them; she hounded them with rigorous debate, and round the clock hours. She dismissed one due to irreconcilable differences over the nature of "the infinite small".

Despite her father's concern, the passionate Emilie had a steady line of suitors. Married at 19, the mother of 3 by 30, she continued to pursue her intellectual and sensual interests. Among her lovers was Voltaire. They spent years pouring over Leibniz and Newton together. Emilie translated Newton's Principia and added a groundbreaking "Algebraical Commentary". She later wrote a treatise on physics.

But when she quit for the day, Emilie gave herself over to her social life. Voltaire claimed that she lived life "at a full tilt like a spirited healthy child." When she became pregnant by yet another lover, Voltaire colluded to convince her family that the baby belonged to her legal husband. Emilie gave birth to the little girl at her desk...where she was working on some of Newton's theories. She placed the baby temporarily on top of a geometry book, and finished her writing. But Emilie and the baby died a few days later. Voltaire collapsed in tears outside her doorstep.... he later published both her books and wrote a historical forward describing Emile's contributions to the field of mathematics.

For more information, please visit:
http://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/chatelet.htm
http://www-gap.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Chatelet.html

« BACK

Her Story Then: Winner of 2006 Gracie Award Feed Back...Tell us what you think and get a Free CD (while supplies last) Click her to download a podcast of a series or listen to indvidual stories Find us on Facebook