Women in Science on the Air
4:03 am
Mon January 15, 2007

Emilie Du Chatelet Audio Biography

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

For more information or to hear other radio biographical profiles visit: www.womeninscience.org.
HER-STORY: THEN & NOW was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation.