Maria Gaetana Agnesi

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Maria Gaetana Agnesi (May 16, 1718 – January 9, 1799) was an Italian linguist, mathematician, and philosopher. Agnesi (the "gn" digraph is pronounced with the palatal nasal /ɲ/) is credited with writing the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna. According to Dirk Jan Struik, Agnesi is "the first important woman mathematician since Hypatia (fifth century A.D.)".

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Early life

Her father, Pietro, was a wealthy man of business who sold and produced silk[1][2][3] who desired to elevate his family into the Milanese nobility.

Having been born in Milan, Maria was recognized as a child prodigy very early; she could speak both Italian and French at five years of age. By her thirteenth birthday she had acquired Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, Latin, and was referred to as the "Walking Polyglot". She even educated her younger brothers. When she was 9 years old, she composed and delivered an hour-long speech in Latin to an academic gathering. The subject was women's right to be educated. When she was fifteen, her father began to regularly gather in his house a circle of the most learned men in Bologna, before whom she read and maintained a series of theses on the most abstruse philosophical questions. Records of these meetings are given in Charles de Brosses' Lettres sur l'Italie and in the Propositiones Philosophicae, which her father had published in 1738. These displays, being probably not altogether congenial to Maria (who wanted to retire) ceased by her twentieth year because she strongly desired to enter a convent at that time. Although her father refused to grant this wish, he agreed to let her live from that time on in an almost conventual semi-retirement, avoiding all interactions with society and devoting herself entirely to the study of mathematics. During that time, Maria studied both differential and integral calculus. Pietro Agnesi also married twice more after Maria's mother died, so that Maria Agnesi ended up the eldest of 21 children. In addition to her performances and lessons, her responsibility was to teach her siblings. This task kept her from her own goal of entering a convent. Scholars thought she was dazzingly beautiful and hers was recognized as one of the richest noble families in Milan.

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