“In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” — Albert Einstein’s Letter for the obituary of Emmy Noether, The New York Times (5 May 1935).
Have you ever heard the line, “Behind every great man is a great woman?” Certainly, most of us have, but most have no idea that so many great women throughout history have had the impacts they did, even on some of the most famous men.
Emmy Noether (1882 – 1935) is just one.
In 1935, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to the New York Times, praising Emmy Noether as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” Noether had overcome many hurdles before she could collaborate with the famed physicist. She grew up in Germany and had her mathematics education delayed because of rules against women attending universities. After she received her PhD, she was unable to obtain a university position for many years, eventually receiving the title of “unofficial associate professor” at the University of Göttingen, only to lose that in 1933 because she was Jewish. And so she moved to America and became a lecturer and researcher at Bryn Mawr College and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. There she developed many of the mathematical foundations for Einstein’s general theory of relativity and made significant advances in the field of algebra.
In her earliest work, she made significant contributions to the theories of algebraic invariants and number fields. Her work on differential invariants in the calculus of variations Noether’s theorem, has been called “one of the most important mathematical theorems ever proved in guiding the development of modern physics”.
Whether or not Emmy Noether is part of our daily lexicon, we must remember that mathematics and science are two of the building blocks of great education. Girls and women are just as likely to excel in these subjects as men and boys. We cannot leave anyone behind in our efforts. Follow in the path of Emmy Noether and the many other female mathematicians throughout history. You may be contributing more than you realize!