This holiday is also a grant-making program of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), funding workshops which encourage girls to explore mathematics.
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya (15 January /O.S. 3 January/ 1850 – 10 February /O.S. 29 January/ 1891) was the first major Russian female mathematician, responsible for important original contributions to analysis, differential equations and mechanics, and the first woman appointed to a full professorship in Northern Europe. She was also one of the first women to work for a scientific journal as an editor.
There are several alternative transliterations of her name. She herself used Sophie Kowalevski (or occasionally Kowalevsky), for her academic publications. After moving to Sweden, she called herself Sonya.
Her doctoral dissertation, "On the Theory of Partial Differential Equations," dealt with a rather general system of differential equations of the first order in any number of variables. Weierstrass had already given an analogous structure for total equations; Sonya's paper extended this to partial differential equations. This is a remarkable contribution which was published in Crelle's Journal in 1875. These results are still of importance today and relevant in finding solutions to differential equations with initial conditions, this is known as the Cauchy problem. What follows is a modern version of what is commonly known as the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya Theorem.
The high point of Sonya's career came on Christmas Eve of 1888, when she was presented the famous Prix Bordin of the French Academy of Sciences in recognition of her winning memoir On the Problem of the Rotation of a Solid Body about a Fixed Point. The rules of the competition for such prizes dictated that each entry be submitted anonymously. The author's name was sealed into an envelope bearing the same motto as that inscribed on the memoir, and the envelope was not to be opened until after the competing work won the prize. So when the jury of the Academy chose Sonya's entry, it was in utter ignorance that the winner was a women. The excellence of her entry was judged to be so exceptional that the value of the prize was increased from 3,000 francs to 5,000 francs "on account of the quite extraordinary service rendered to mathematical physics by this work." Incidentally, the motto on Sonya's prize-winning essay was "Say what you know, do what you must, come what may."