Mathematician Hilda Gieringer’s remarkable journey

If you are not a mathematician, you are unlikely to know about plastic deformation, the Gieringer equations, or slip-line theory. And you have probably never heard of Hilda Gieringer.

But if you have ever crossed a bridge, you owe Hilda Gieringer a word of thanks.

. . . slip-line theory plays a central role in science and engineering. In safety engineering for bridges, for instance, application of this theory ensures that metals don’t strain beyond their deformation point, preventing bends and breaks. Source: The woman who reshaped maths – BBC Future

Hilda Gieringer was one of the most remarkable mathematicians of the first half of the 20th century. Her genius was well recognized and regarded among math profs of her time, but her life story makes her accomplishments even more remarkable.

Gieringer was born in 1893 in Vienna into a Jewish family that valued education, even for girls. She showed a remarkable aptitude for that most unfeminine field of mathematics, and by 1917 she had earned a doctorate from the University of Vienna. But the world wasn’t ready for a female mathematics genius, especially one who was Jewish.

She became the assistant to Richard Von Mises at the University of Berlin in 1921 and six years later became the university’s first female lecturer. In 1933 she was offered a professorship, but that did not last long. The Nazis had come to power in Germany, and they were fast purging industry and academics of all Jews and Jewish influence.

From Berlin she and Von Mises went to Istanbul where they worked happily for several years. A regime change there, however, put her back into the hunt for asylum. The U.S. was the obvious place, but the strict immigration quotas has already been filled. With time running out before she was deported back to Germany and certain death, she got a visa to the U.S.

Life in America did not include concentration camps, but it wasn’t easy either. She was still a woman working in a field that many believed only fit for men.

Her entire story can be found at The woman who reshaped maths – BBC Future. It is very much worth reading.

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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