Émilie du Châtelet
(b. 1706 - d. 1749)
Émilie du Châtelet was born into a wealthy lifestyle and she received education that most women of her time did not even think of doing. Emilie is a women who dedicated her life to science. Even though she lived in the 1700's, she fought for her right as a women to discuss with men about ideas of math and science.
Emilie du Châtelet had many aspirations which includes to have the same standards of men when it came to studying sciences. She was born as Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil and her father worked for the royal court. This influenced her to love high society and become educated. Historians argue that she may have been a genius of her day because of the many fields she accomplished at including language, writings, math, and science. She married Marquise Florent – Claude du Chastellet in June of 1725 and bore three children by him. This did not stop Émilie from having multiple relationships with men, including tutors and friends like Voltaire. Her husband did not seem to mind it so much.
Émilie was rejected by scholarly institution and men from higher education in academic schools because she was a woman. She instead hired tutors to teach her mathematics, science, and philosophy. Émilie wanted so bad to be equal to her counterparts of mathematics, but most of them were men. She was always denied to sit in the King's library at the Louvre because she was female. She was also denied entrance into the Gradot's coffeehouse when mathematic men scholars were disusing the latest science information. One day she dressed like a man and even though the men knew who she was, they allowed her in for discussion.
Of all her many love affairs, her relationship with Voltaire was the most significant. Voltaire gave her the name du Châtelet to which most historians recognize her as today. During there courtship, Émilie and Voltaire researched together about the wonders of mathematics, including the laws of Newton. Because Voltaire was exiled from France because of a book he wrote that argued with political standings of France, Voltaire and Émilie worked mainly in the house of Cirey. In this location, Émilie and Voltaire wrote books that became published; for example she wrote the Institution de Phsyique. Voltaire and Émilie came to an end with their courtship, but still remained very close friends. Émilie engaged in another affair where she became pregnant. She died a few days after child birth.
Émilie du Chatetet did succeed in life as a woman mathematician. She fought for her right to learn even though men tried to push her away. Because she grew up and lived in a wealthy lifestyle, this gave her the chance to afford an education and further education that women in the eighteenth century would not even think of doing. Although she had her many love affairs, she and Voltaire really clicked in their attraction and their love for science and mathematics. Émilie du Châtelet will be known as a great scientist and a person who was outstanding in her present day.
Bart, Jody. Women Succeeding in Science: Theories and Practices Across Discipline. West Lafayette , IN : Purdue University Press, 2000.
This book is written to honor the women in history dedicated to science. It includes how they fought against the obstacle of being a female to affect society. There are many women that are informed about in this source include Émilie du Châtelet and her fight against sexism so that she can be considered a mathematician. this source is a good informational source of the history of science and would be good for a student looking for information in that subject.
Birkenstock, Jane M. “Emilie du Chatelet.” Chateau du Cirey – Residence of Voltaire. (2001-2005) <http://www.visitvoltaire.com/emilie_du_chatelet_bio.htm>
(18 December 2005).
This webpage contributes to Émilie du Châtelet and her life story. It begins with her childhood and includes her father’s high society job, her childhood and education, her love for high society, the development of her mind, her marriage and her love affairs, her fight of discrimination of being a women mathematician, and her love affair with Voltaire. This webpage is part of a website that is dedicated to Chateau du Cirey, which was the home to Voltaire; and this is where Voltaire and Émilie spent a lot of their time devoting them to mathematics. This website is more for a tourist who want to learn about the life of Voltaire and his residence as well. This source provides portraits of Émilie du Châtelet along with portraits of Voltaire and his residency. It also includes writings of Voltaire and Emilie. Lastly, this site offers information to tourists on how to sign up for tours and maps of near by tourists attractions as well.
Hutton, Sarah. “Emilie du Chatelet’s Institutions de Physique as a Document in the History of French Newtonianism.”
Studies in History & Philosophy of Science Part A. (June 2004): pp.
This source gives information about how Émilie du Châtelet and her contribution to her country of France with her views of Newtonianism and what her country thought of the Newton Theory before she wrote her work. Hutton gives her review of Châtelet’s written source Institution de Physique. It is argued by Hutton that Châtelet’s view of Newton ’s work is influenced by the French thought and her interest in Leibniz. Châtelet is consistent with the thoughts of mathematics with Voltaire and his philosophy of Newton . This source is good for a student who wants to research the study of Newton or mathematics in general. The content is not easy to understand because of its scientific vocabulary.
Learning Technology Team of Sheffield Hallam University . “Emily du Chatelet [1706 – 1709].” UK
Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology. (1995 – 2000) <http://extra.shu.ac.uk/nrc/section_3/pioneers/duchatelet.html>
(18 December 2005).
This webpage source is dedicated to the fight of equality as a mathematician of Émilie du Châtelet. Ever since she was educated by tutors her father gave her, she had been devoted to education. She especially wanted to experience the research of math the way the men of the eighteenth century were doing. This source tells the reader how she was discriminated time and again because she was a woman. It introduces the book Institutions de physique in which she wrote her theories of mathematics. The webpage UK Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology is dedicated to women in history like Émilie du Châtelet. It offers more biographies of women in mathematics who had to fight for their right to learn about what they loved. This is a good webpage for students to find interesting women who made a difference in mathematic history.
O’Connor, John F. and Robertson, Edmund F. “Gabrielle Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil Marquise du Châtelet.”
The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. (April 2003) <http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Chatelet.html>
(18 December 2005).
This page from The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archives gives a good biography of Émilie of Châtelet, and the history of her father. It describes her life of love for mathematics and her relationships between her family, her husband, and Voltaire. The source gives primary text of the writings of Voltaire and other individuals she knew or was related to Emilie. It discusses here defeats and her victories of persuading men that she was a genius in mathematics. She was always not allowed at mathematic conventions or discussions because she was a woman. Lastly is talks about her devotion to Newton ’s’ Laws, which were not considered much too French culture in the 1700's. this source would be good for a student who is interested in the history of Émilie du Châtelet.
Richardson, William H. “Emilie, Marquise du Chatelet.” Wichita State University Department of Mathematics and Statistics: Math 750J History
Project. (1999 and 2000) <http://www.math.wichita.edu/history/women/chatelet.html>
(18 December 2005).
Wichita State University Department of Mathematics and Statistics: Math 750J History Project goes into a biography detail about Émilie du Châtelet many affairs that she had throughout her life time; including the most famous affair with Voltaire. This webpage also offers information about the love of mathematics and belief in Newton. The webpage is broader and gives many biographies other than Émilie du Châtelet and informs about the history of how mathematicians became so famous with their research. It includes men and women all around the world. This site will be helpful to a person who is interested in the history of mathematics and how it came to be where it is today.
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Original written by Elena DiGrado, 2005
Last Revision: 3 October 2006
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