This year marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of a groundbreaking paper in the area of mathematics known as ring theory by a German Jew named Emmy Noether—whom Albert Einstein would later describe as a “creative mathematical genius.” When Noether completed her doctorate in 1909, at the age of twenty-seven, women were barred from the faculties of German universities. She only obtained a position as a lecturer in 1919. Tamar Lichter Blanks tells her story:
Noether made important contributions to theoretical physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity. . . . Noetherian rings, [a category of mathematical phenomena she discovered], show up all the time in modern mathematics. Mathematicians still use Noether’s [methods] today, not just in ring theory, but in other areas such as number theory and algebraic geometry.
Noether published her famous ring-theory paper and other important results in mathematics while she was a lecturer in Göttingen from 1919 to 1933. But in the spring of 1933, the University of Göttingen received a telegram: six faculty members—including Noether—had to stop teaching immediately. The Nazis had passed a law barring Jews from professorship.
Noether’s response, it seems, was calm. “This thing is much less terrible for me than it is for many others,” she wrote in a letter to a fellow mathematician. But she was out of a job, and no university in Germany could hire her.
Help came from the United States. Bryn Mawr, a women’s college in Pennsylvania, offered Noether a professorship through a special fund for refugee German scholars. . . . Noether’s time at Bryn Mawr was, tragically, short. In 1935 she had surgery to remove a tumor and died unexpectedly four days later.