Hypatia (pronounced hi-pay-shuh) of Alexandria, is the first well-documented woman in mathematics. Pythagorus, Plato, and Socrates are all known to have invited women into their schools, but little is known of these women. While, details of Hypatia’s life are scant, there is at least some evidence of her work in the fields of mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy.
Hypatia was born sometime around 350-370 AD, the daughter of mathematician Theon of Alexandria. She was educated in Athens, and around 400 AD, she became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in Roman Egypt. Hypatia was a popular lecturer and was known as a great problem-solver. Mathematicians stuck on problems would write to her for advice. Letters from one of her most distinguished students, Synesius, is one of the few remaining sources of her work.
Another source of information about Hypatia is the writings of Socrates Scholasticus. In his Ecclesiastical History he writes:
There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.
Hypatia was killed when she became involved in a feud between two prominent figures in Alexandria: the governor Orestes and the Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. Her role as friend and advisor of Orestes angered supporters of Cyril, and in 415 AD, she was murdered by an angry mob of religious fanatics in the streets of Alexandria.
Rachel Weisz portrayed Hypatia in the 2009 film, Agora.
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“Hypatia of Alexandria (?370 -415).” She is An Astronomer. 25 Mar. 2013 <http://www.sheisanastronomer.org>.