Famous Female Mathematicians and their Contributions (Part-I)

29th Sep '209 views7 mins read

19 November 2020                

Read time: 3 minutes

Almost everyone is aware of the contributions made by Newton, Rene Descartes, Carl Friedrich Gauss in Mathematics. However, when it comes to female mathematicians, the world is still mostly unaware of their achievements.

Famous Female Mathematicians

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Cuemath has hence compiled a list of female mathematicians to whom the field of mathematics owe a lot of its advancement :

Katherine Johnson

Black and white image of Katherine JohnsonBorn: Aug 26, 1918

Died: Feb 24, 2020

Hometown: White Sulphur Springs, WV

Education: B.S., Mathematics and French, West Virginia State College, 1937

Falling in love with maths from a young age, Katherine studied the subject alongside French at university, graduating summa cum laude at the age of just 18! She later joined NASA in 1953, and her contributions to orbital mechanics were crucial to the success of the USA’s aeronautics and space programs. In 2015, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for her important work as a mathematician, physicist, and space scientist as a woman of color.

Katherine’s impact:

Despite being one of the first three black women to attend West Virginia University, she dared to challenge the stereotypes which existed around her and have since become a pioneering example and role model for females everywhere of African American women in STEM.

She was responsible for calculating the trajectory for Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, which means she helped the first spaceship and the first Americans reach the moon! Believing that “everything is physics and math(s),” she encouraged girls to pursue careers in STEM and often gave talks on the subject.

Awards & Achievements:

  1. Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015)
  2. Silver Snoopy Award (2016)
  3. NASA Group Achievement Award (2016)
  4. Congressional Gold Medal (2019)
  5. Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Medal of Honour (2017)

Biography by Margot Lee Shetterly

“Being handpicked to be one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools is something that many people would consider one of their life’s most notable moments, but it’s just one of several breakthroughs that have marked Katherine Johnson’s long and remarkable life.”

Grace Hopper

Black and White image of Grace HopperBorn: Dec 9, 1906

Died: Jan 1, 1992

Hometown: New York City, U.S.

Education: B.A., Vassar College,1928

M.S., Yale University, 1930

Ph. D., Yale University, 1934

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark-I the computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today.

Grace’s Impact:

One of the first three modern “programmers,” Hopper is best known for her trailblazing contributions to the development of computer languages. Known as irreverent, sharp-tongued, and brilliant, she enjoyed long and influential careers in both the U.S. Navy and the private sector.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, Hopper decided to join the war effort. She was initially rejected because of her age and diminutive size, but she persisted. Taking a leave of absence from Vassar, where she was an associate professor, Hopper joined the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve) in December 1943 and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University.

There she worked for Howard Aiken, another computer pioneer, who had developed the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, better known as the Mark I, one of the earliest electromechanical computers. One of the first three computers “programmers,” Hopper was responsible for programming the Mark I and punching machine instructions onto tape. She also wrote the 561-page user manual for the Mark I.

Awards & Achievements:

  • She was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991—becoming the first female individual recipient of the honor.
  • The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing Conference is a technical conference that encourages women to become part of the world of computing, while the Association for Computing Machinery offers a Grace Murray Hopper Award
  • In 2016, Hopper was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.


  • Women at Microsoft Corporation formed an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor.
  • Beginning in 2015, one of the nine competition fields at the FIRST Robotics Competition world championship is named for Hopper.
  • A named professorship in the Department of Computer Sciences was established at Yale University in her honor. Joan Feigenbaum was named to this chair in 2008.
  • Google in 2020 named its new undersea network cable 'Grace Hopper', the cable will connect the US, UK and Spain and estimated to be completed by 2022.

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani wearing blue pullover Born: May 12, 1977

Died: July 14, 2017

Hometown: Tehran, Iran

Education: B.Sc., Mathematics, Sharif University of Technology, 1999

Ph. D., Harvard University

Iranian-born Maryam Mirzakhani was one of the greatest mathematicians of her generation, making exceptional contributions to the study of the dynamics and geometry of mathematical objects called Riemann surfaces.

She was a professor at Stanford University and held a Ph.D. from Harvard University. In 2014, she was the first woman, and first Iranian to be awarded a Fields Medal (also known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics) for “her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.”

As a girl, Maryam Mirzakhani was not very interested in math and dreamt of being a writer. “I never thought I would pursue mathematics until my last year in high school,” Mirzakhani.

The choice turned out to be a wise one: In 2014, she became the first woman and the first Iranian honored with the prestigious Fields Medal, awarded for her work on hyperbolic geometry—a non-Euclidean geometry used to explore concepts of space and time.

Mirzakhani taught math at Stanford University. Curtis McMullen, her doctoral advisor at Harvard, described her as having “a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics.”

Maryam’s impact:

Her work had a huge impact on shaping her field and has opened up new frontiers of research that are just starting to be explored. She shows us that, even in a male-dominated field, women can be role models and lead the way forward with their discoveries.

Awards and Achievements:

  1. Blumenthal Award (2009)
  2. Satter Prize (2013)
  3. Clay Research Award (2014)
  4. Fields Medal (2014)


  • In 2014, students at the University of Oxford founded the Mirzakhani Society, a society for women and non-binary students studying Mathematics at the University of Oxford. Mirzakhani met the society in September 2015, when she visited Oxford.
  • In 2016, Maryam Mirzakhani was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences, making her the first Iranian woman to be officially accepted as a member of the academy.
  • On 2 February 2018, Satellogic, a high-resolution Earth observation imaging and analytics company, launched a ÑuSat type micro-satellite named in honor of Maryam Mirzakhani.
  • On November 4, 2019, The Breakthrough Prize Foundation announced that the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize has been created to be awarded to outstanding women in the field of mathematics each year. The $50,000 award will be presented to early-career mathematicians who have completed their PhDs within the past two years.
  • In February 2020, on International Day of Women and Girls in STEM, Mirzakhani was honored by UN Women as one of seven female scientists dead or alive who have shaped the world.


Read out the next part of Famous Female mathematicians-II here.

We have discussed above the list of famous mathematicians and their contributions to mathematics. However, they all are from foreign countries. There are famous Indian mathematicians also like Srinivasa Ramanujan, Aryabhata, Shakuntala Devi, and many more.

If you wish to know more about famous Indian mathematicians and their mathematics contributions, visit: 

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When did Katherine Johnson die?

Katherine Johnson passed away at the age of 101 years on February 24, 2020.

When did Maryam Mirzakhani die?

Maryam Mirzakhani passed away on July 14, 2017, after a long battle with cancer.

Who is Grace Hopper?

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral.

One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark-I the computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers.

She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today.

External References

To know more about Katherine Johnson, Grace Hopper and Maryam Mirzakhani, Visit these blogs:

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