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Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935)

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Emmy Noether

In 1935, the year of Emmy Noether's death, Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to the New York Times, "In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began." Born in 1882 in Germany, Emmy Noether persisted in the face of tremendous obstacles to become one of the greatest algebraists of this century.

Known primarily for her profound and beautiful theorems in ring theory, Emmy Noether's most significant achievement runs deeper: she changed the way mathematicians think about their subject. "She taught us to think in simple, and thus general, terms... homomorphic image, the group or ring with operators, the ideal... and not in complicated algebraic calculations," said her colleague P.S. Alexandroff during a memorial service after her death. In this way, she cleared a path toward the discovery of new algebraic patterns that had previously been obscured.

Despite her intellectual achievements and the recognition of such mathematicians as David Hilbert and Hermann Weyl, Emmy Noether endured years of poor treatment by German universities, where for a time she could not even lecture under her own name. Weyl later wrote that, even when the Nazis prevented her from lecturing, "her courage, her frankness, her unconcern about her own fate, her conciliatory spirit, were, in the midst of all the hatred and meanness, despair and sorrow... a moral solace." Forced out of Germany by the Nazis in 1933, Emmy Noether came to Bryn Mawr College, where she soon collected many students and colleagues around her. She died there just two years later at the age of fifty-three.

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