translation and comments ©1998, Joan Saberhagen

TO: G. Mittag-Leffler
PLACE: Berlin
DATE: 8 July 1881

Thank you so very much for all your efforts on behalf of my appointment to the Stockholm University. As for me, I would always accept the position of university docent with pleasure. I never counted on any other position. And I candidly confess that I will feel less confused occupying a modest position. I aspire to employing my knowledge and to teaching at a higher educational establishment, in order to forever open university education to women . Now, it is not so, admission is by exception or from personal kindness. It is always possible to be deprived of either, that certainly happened at the majority of German universities.

Although I am not rich, I have the means to live quite independently; therefore the question of salary will not exert an influence on my decision. I mainly desire to serve with all my strength a cause dear to me while at the same time having the opportunity of working among people engaged in the same field of study. This good fortune never fell to my lot in Russia . . .

All these are my personal wishes and feelings. However I considered myself obligated to inform you about the following:

Based essentially on the state of affairs in Sweden, Professor Weierstrass calculates that it is impossible that Stockholm University agree to accept a woman among their professors. Even more importantly, he fears that you might strongly injure yourself, by insisting on this innovation. It would be too selfish on my part not to communicate these apprehensions of our esteemed teacher. Of course, you understand that I would have been driven to despair if I would have learned that you had undergone some kind of trouble for my sake.

I suppose therefore, that now, it may be ill-advised and untimely to begin making efforts on behalf of my appointment. Rather wait until I have finished the works I've begun. If I succeed in carrying these out well, as I expect to, then they will serve towards the attainment of my established goal.



Taken by ViP from the text of a book by EF Litvinova

This letter, with some insignificant variant readings is in A. Ch. Leffler-Edgren's book about Kovalevskaia and in excerpts in various translations by P. Ia. Kochina. In the letter of 21 November, Sofia Vasilevna informs Mittag-Leffler: "the appearance of a woman in the profession of docent at a university department represents a serious step, which might have very serious consequences for the goal to which I mainly wish to devote myself. Therefore, I have no right to accept it, before I clearly prove with my scientific works, what I am capable of."