Germain, Sophie

BORN 1 Apr 1776, Paris: Rue Saint-Denis - DIED 17 Jun 1831, Paris: 13 rue de Savoie
BIRTH NAME Germain, Marie-Sophie
CAUSE OF DEATH breast cancer
GRAVE LOCATION Paris: Père Lachaise, Rue du Repos 16 (division 16, ligne 03 (Moiroux: V 28))

Sophie Germain was the daughter of the rich Ambroise-François Germain (1726-1821), who was either a silk merchant or a goldsmith. During the French Revolution in 1789 she was forced to remain inside and spent her time in her father's library. She studied his books on mathematics and learned herself Greek and Latin and after that she was able to read Newton and Euler. Her parents initially didn't support her in her maths studies, but her family took care of her financially during her life.

In 1794 the École Polytechnique opened. She wasn't allowed to attend the lectures, but she had right to obtain the lecture notes. Under the name of monsieur Leblanc she sent her own observations to Lagrange, who asked for a meeting. He didn't object to her being a woman and became her mentor.

She corresponded with Adrien-Marie Legendre on number theory and he added some of her work as a supplement to the second edition of his "Théorie des Nombres". She also corresponded with Friedrich Gauss under the name of M. Leblanc. When the French occupied Braunschweig where she lived she wrote to General Pernety, a fried of the family and requested him to asssure his safety. His safety was checked and he was confused when her name was mentioned because her real identiy was unknown to him. Three months later she disclosed her identity to him. He praised her work but they never met.

In 1816 she won the prize of the Paris Academy of Sciences under her own name with "Recherches sur la théorie des surfaces élastiques". But only seven years later she was able to attend sessions of the Academy after she had befrieded Joseph Fournier and he helped her to tickets. In 1829 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued to work and published a paper on the curvature of elastic surfaces in 1831. She died in 1831 in Paris. Two philosophical works from her hand were published posthumously. The Academy of Sciences created the Sophie Germain Prize in her honor.

Related persons
• corresponded with Gauss, Carl Friedrich
• corresponded with Legendre, Adrien Marie


The grave of Sophie Germain at Père Lachaise, Paris.
Picture by Androom (02 Nov 2018)


• Le Clère, Marcel, Cimetières & Sepultures de Paris, Hachette, Paris, 1978
• Forbes, Malcolm, Women who made a difference, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1990
Sophie Germain - Wikipedia

Gérôme, Jean Léon

Published: 01 Nov 2021
Last update: 01 Nov 2021