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Maria Gaetana Agnesi - Mathematician: 1718 - 1799

Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in Milan to a wealthy and literate family. She was recognized as a child prodigy. In her teens, Maria mastered mathematics. The Agnesi home was a gathering place of the most distinguished intellectuals of the day. Maria participated in most of the seminars, engaging with the guests in abstract philosophical and mathematical discussions. Maria was very shy in nature and did not like these meetings. She continued participating in the home gatherings to please her father until the death of her mother. Her mother's death provided her the excuse to retire from public life.

In 1738 she published a collection of complex essays on natural science and philosophy called Propositiones Philosophicae, based on the discussions of the intellectuals who gathered at her father's home. In many of these essays, she expressed her conviction that women should be educated. By the age of twenty, she began working on her most important work, Analytical Institutions, dealing with differential and integral calculus. It is said that she started writing Analytical Institutions as a textbook for her brothers, which then grew into a more serious effort. When her work was published in 1748, it caused a sensation in the academic world. It was one of the first and most complete works on finite and infinitesimal analysis. The book was widely translated and used as a textbook. She discussed the curve which came to be known as the "witch of Agnesi".

After the success of her book, Maria was elected to the Bologna Academy of Sciences. Maria gained such reputation as a mathematician that she was appointed by Benedict XIV to teach mathematics in the University of Bologna. However, there is a debate over whether or not Maria accepted this appointment since by this time she had devoted herself to her work with charity - for some years she was director of the Hospice Trivulzio of the Blue Nuns in Milan. Eventually she joined the order and died a member of it, in her eighty-first year.

A crater on Venus is named in her honor.

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