Klein, Hilbert, and the Promotion of Women in Mathematics and/or Factors influencing Women’s Careers

  • Renate Tobies (Uni Jena)
E1 05 (Leibniz-Saal)


Felix Klein (1849-1925) is characterized by outstanding results in mathematics, its applications, and as a head of the reform of mathematical instruction. From early on, he was internationally oriented and supported mathematically gifted students regardless of their sex, religion, and nationality. This presentation will focus on Klein’s engagement as an impetus behind women studying mathematics. Klein cooperated with numerous foreign colleagues who also promoted women in mathematics. Among them were the geometrician Gaston Darboux (1842-1917) in France, Luigi Cremona (1830-1903) in Italy, Arthur Cayley (1821-1895) in the United Kingdom, Hieronymus G. Zeuthen (1839-1920) in Denmark, and James Joseph Sylvester (1814-1897). Since the 1890s, when he began to create a famous international centre of mathematics at the University of Göttingen, Klein not only allowed male mathematicians from abroad to attend his courses, but also women. David Hilbert (1862-1943) followed in Klein’s footsteps.

The present contribution examines the beginning of women’s mathematical study at German universities and analyses the special efforts of Klein and Hilbert. It will be shown that they had to fight for the right of women to study and to receive doctoral and post-doctoral degrees. The analysis is based on archival materials in Göttingen related to the careers of Klein and Hilbert, among other sources. In this context, I will also discuss factors that influenced women’s careers in mathematics and still have a lasting effect today.

Katharina Matschke

MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences Contact via Mail