Sofia Kowalewska (Russian: Со́фья Васи́льевна Ковале́вская) was born on January 15, 1850 in Moscow. Sofia's father, Wasilij Wasiljewicz Krukowski, a descendant of the Polish family of Korwin Krukowski, was an artillery officer, mother Jelizawieta Fiodorowna Schubert came from a German family. Both parents were well educated representatives of the Russian nobility.
At the age of 18, Sofia married a young geologist and paleontologist Włodzimierz Kowalewski, with whom, in 1869, she left for Germany. In Heidelberg, she wanted to study mathematics and natural sciences, but as a woman she could not be admitted to the university. However, she managed to get permission to attend lectures as a free listener.
Sofia studied there successfully for three years. In 1871, she moved with her husband to Berlin. For four years she took private lessons from a professor at the University of Berlin, Karl Weierstrass. Working under the direction of Weierstrass, she wrote three works in mathematics, on the basis of which in 1874 the University of Göttingen gave her, as the first European woman, the title of doctor of philosophy. The three papers were on Partial differential equations, Abelian integrals and Saturn's Rings.
Despite the title of doctor, Kowalewska could not be employed at the university, so she returned to Russia, where in 1878 she gave birth to a daughter. However, she did not give up thinking about practicing mathematics and in 1882 she left for Paris, where she got acquainted with, among others, Charles Hermite and Henri Poincaré. In 1883, she formulated the mathematical theory of refraction of light in crystals.
A few months later, thanks to Mittag-Leffler, she received, as the first woman, the position of lecturer at the University of Stockholm. Working at the university gave her the opportunity to continue practicing mathematics.
In 1884, as the first woman in history, she was appointed to a five year position as "Professor Extraordinarius" (Professor without Chair) and became an editor of Acta Mathematica. In 1888 Sofia Kowalewska won the Prix Bordin of the French Academy of Science, for her work: Mémoire sur un cas particulier du problème de le rotation d'un corps esant autour d'un point fixe, où l'intégration s'effectue à l'aide des fonctions ultraelliptiques du temps.
In 1889 she was appointed "Professor Ordinarius" at Stockholm University, as the first woman to hold such a position at a northern European university. In the same year, on the initiative of Chebyshev, Sofia Kowalewska was elected a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Sofia Kowalewska was a woman who had a great personal charm and the ability to make contacts. She was not only a great mathematician, but a multi-talented person -- she knew several foreign languages and was the author of several literary positions including a memoir A Russian Childhood, two plays (in collaboration with Duchess Anne Charlotte Edgren-Leffler) and a partly autobiographical novel Nihilist Girl (1890).
Sofia Kowalewska cooperated with many prominent scholars such as Mendelejew, Czebyszew and Stoletow. Dostoevsky and Turgenev were also her friends. Sofia's mathematical career was tragically cut in February 10, 1891. She died on pneumonia just after returning home from holidays in Genoa. A crater on the Moon and, discovered on 4 September 1972 by Ludmila Żurawlowa, asteroid from the main belt of asteroids were named Sofia Kowalewska (Kovalevskaya).