Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini

Quick Info

11 April 1908
Santiago de Chile, Chile
22 August 2015
Santiago de Chile, Chile

Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini was a mathematics teacher at both school and university level in Chile. She made many contributions to the development of education in Chile during her long active life.


Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini was the daughter of Fernando Antoine and Minerva Lazzerini. Fernando was born in Bordeaux, France, and came to Chile with his family when he was a child. He began his studies in Chile in a religious school, but his father decided to take him away from the school and after that he was self-educated. Minerva's family were from Florence, Italy and Guacolda spoke about them (see [15]):-
My maternal grandfather was from Florence. There he bought forests, cut them down and sold the wood, and he continued to do that until a forest caught fire and his capital ran out. So he thought of coming to Chile, building up his capital again and returning to Italy. But when my grandfather went to work in Santiago he never collected money because he was a very honest man.
After arriving in Chile Minerva was educated at a private Italian school. She wanted to go back to Italy for a university education but her family did not have enough money for this so she remained at the private Italian school helping the teacher. Fernando and Minerva married in 1907 when he was 22 years old and she was 19. Guacolda, the subject of this biography, was their first child born in 1908. She was named Guacolda since her father wanted to emphasise that she was Chilean; Guacolda is a name from Mapuche mythology. She was the first of her parents' seven children and spoke about her schooling which began in Santiago de Chile (see [15]):-
I started studying at a public school that was in Vicuña Mackenna near Marín, and at the age of four I already knew how to read. I was there until 1914 when my parents went to Chillán [about 400 km south of Santiago]. My dad invented a system to have hot water in the kitchen and had already made several sales in that area. I remember that in Chillán we bought from a French grocery store. There I was at the American Lyceum for Young Ladies, which was where the Humanities were studied. I entered the first year and studied there for two years. Since I was a good student, they offered me a scholarship until I finished school, but my mother did not accept it and preferred to send me to study in Santiago, where I went to live in Aunt Hortensia's house. When she passed away, she left behind two children, one was two years old and the other nine. My parents, and then me, took care of them.
Antoine attended the Liceo de Niñas de Santiago No. 2. This school, a girls' annex of the Application Lyceum, had been founded in 1904 to provide an institution where students from the Pedagogical Institute could carry out teaching practice. Liceo No. 2 was situated next to the Pedagogical Institute of the University of Chile and as well as providing facilities where students could get practical teaching experience, it also provided an excellent education for girls who wanted to attend the Pedagogical Institute and qualify as teachers. While she was studying at this school, her father died and her mother was left with nine children to bring up. Antoine being the oldest of the children, felt a responsibility for helping out with the family finances. She did this by earning some money teaching and she explained how this came about (see [16]):-
I was in my last year at the Liceo de Aplicación and a German mathematics teacher would take us out to the blackboard to do exercises. I was the only one who could solve them, and with that system I learned a lot, but my classmates didn't. So, for the final examination, I had the idea to teach my classmate and they all did well. The teacher was surprised and I felt that teaching was for me.
She also made some money by teaching mathematics to the sons and daughters of wealthy families. This was not her first experience of teaching, however, for she had always helped her younger brothers and sisters with their school work. Her first thought of a career had not been teaching but had been to become a ballet dancer. Many of her friends advised her to study medicine but her experience teaching her classmates convinced her that she wanted to become a mathematics teacher. She graduated from Liceo No. 2 in December 1923 and in 1924 she entered the Pedagogical Institute to train as a mathematics teacher. She joined a small class with four men and two women students.

We should say a little about mathematical education in Chile to put Antoine's biography into context. In Chile, mathematics teaching was done primarily by engineers up to the end of the 19C. José Manuel Balmaceda, the 10th President of Chile 1886-1891, argued strongly for the reform of education and the Pedagogical Institute was founded in 1889 to bring this about. The German Ricardo Poenisch [13]:-
... arrived in Chile in the second half of 1889, in compliance with a contract signed at the Chilean Legation in Berlin on 2 July of that year, to render his services as professor of mathematics, physics and cosmography. ...
Augusto Tafelmacher, who had a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Göttingen, arrived in Chile soon after Poenisch and good quality mathematics courses were established at the Pedagogical Institute. By the time that Antoine began her studies at the Pedagogical Institute in 1924 it was giving high quality courses on mathematics and on the teaching of mathematics.

For more information about the Pedagogical Institute, see THIS LINK.

In 1928 she qualified as a teacher of mathematics and physics having written the mathematical education dissertation Algunos tópicos sobre resoluciones de ecuaciones diferenciales y su implementación como nueva asignatura en las carreras de Pedagogía e Ingeniería .

After graduating in June 1928, Antoine was appointed as a teacher at the José Victorino Lastarria Men's Liceo No. 5. This school had been founded in 1913 but suffered a major fire in 1928 which completely destroyed the original building. The school director was Juan N Durán Munoz and Antoine was appointed to the school despite the fact that it was a school for boys. In fact she was not the first woman teacher at the school for there was already a woman chemistry teacher in post. Antoine taught at this school for thirty years but this was not the only post she held.

Antoine began her career at an extremely difficult period in world history, namely the years of the Great Depression, which hit Chile particularly badly. The worldwide Great Depression began in 1929 and in that year Antoine was appointed to teach at the Higher Institute of Commerce of Chile. It was in 1930 that Chile was badly hit by the Great Depression and in the following few years suffered from political instability and poverty. Antoine worked at the Higher Institute of Commerce until 1931 and during these years she took the opportunity to qualify as an actuary. This was not Antoine's only appointment in 1929 for in that year she was also employed to teach Analytical Geometry at the Pedagogical Institute. Here she came into contact with Karl Grandjot who had a considerable influence on her as a teacher. Let us give a little background.

Karl Grandjot (1900-1979) (known as Carlos in Chile) was a German who had studied mathematics at the University of Göttingen and was awarded a doctorate in 1922 for his thesis Über das absolute Konvergenzproblem der Dirichletschen Reihen . He had been advised by Edmund Landau [12]:-
Dr Grandjot, as his students called him, arrived in Chile on the 1 May 1929, from Germany, hired by the Government to "provide his services as a Mathematics Professor in the educational establishments of the Republic. He would have the obligation to serve up to fifteen hours a week of classes, including seminars." Upon arriving, he began teaching "classes on Higher and Elementary Mathematics, Philosophy and Physics at the Pedagogical Institute of the University of Chile."
Antoine learnt much from Grandjot although she thought he had a strange way of teaching [15]:-
... when they appointed me an assistant [at the Pedagogical Institute], they also appointed two high school teachers, that is, it was two teachers and me. They gave me the third course and there I had to work with Grandjot. He explained to me what exercises he had to do and it became clear to me that the Germans had a different method of teaching. It was something very singular, I don't know if it was better or worse.
Teaching at the Liceo Lastarria and the Pedagogical Institute during the critical years of the Great Depression meant that she was able to support her brothers and cousins, providing the necessary finance for them all to complete their studies. Chile was led by General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo who had suspended parliamentary elections and was ruling by decree. Although popular at first, Ibáñez came in for heavy criticism after the Depression hit the country hard. Ibáñez left the country going into exile on 26 July 1931. There followed a period of political instability until Arturo Alessandri was re-elected in December 1932. Antoine was too busy working to find time to be involved in politics, but she always considered herself "a woman of the left, close to the socialists but never militant."

While teaching at the Liceo Lastarria, Antoine met Arcadio Escobar Zapata (1912-1989). He was a student of law at the University of Chile and was acting as an honorary inspector at the High School. When they met Antoine was still responsible for supporting her brothers and nephews through their education and Escobar, still a student, was not in a position to marry. They agreed that they would marry once circumstances permitted and indeed they did marry in 1944. Antoine continued teaching at the Liceo and at the Pedagogical Institute and, in 1946 and 1948, their children Fernando Escobar Antoine and Alvaro Escobar Antoine were born. Between the two births, in 1947, she was appointed professor at the School of Industrial Engineers. In 1953 the School of Industrial Engineers became part of the Universidad Técnica del Estado.

Alexandre Tarragó i Borràs (1907-1980) was born in Tarragona, Spain, and became a teacher. At the end of World War II, Franco expelled him from Spain and he went into exile in Santiago de Chile. In 1950, together with other Spanish teachers who were now also in exile, Tarragó set up an educational project "The Kent School", a school that he directed until his death in 1980. It was founded with the principles of secularism, tolerance and renewal. In 1953, recognising that 'The Kent School' was an innovative educational concept, Antoine joined them. She also had her two sons educated at this school [15]:-
Her son, Fernando Escobar Antoine, recounts that in that period, together with her teaching activity at the University of Chile, at the Universidad Técnica del Estado, at the Liceo Lastarria and at the Kent School, Guacolda developed an intense interest in relation to the new methods of teaching mathematics. Along with all the teaching activity, she also assumed managerial responsibilities at the Technical University, where she served as Secretary of the Teaching Council of Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry between 1954 and 1958 and for the period 1958-1962 she was elected president of the same Teaching Council, a position equivalent to that of dean of a faculty at the University of Chile. In the latter, she was Head of the Mathematics Department of the Faculty of Philosophy and Education in 1959 and between 1960 and 1962.

Fernando continues to explain that his mother represented the Universidad Técnica del Estado at the Congress of Latin American Universities held in Buenos Aires in 1957 and was a delegate of the Chilean Universities before the Commission for the Preparation of the Scientific Teaching Report in 1960. That same year she was appointed Head of the Baccalaureate Commission in Mathematics, a position she held until 1965. At the same time, together with a group of colleagues, she began an intense activity to improve teaching at the Centre for Mathematics and Physics teachers in Santiago, where she was elected president for the period 1960-1963. In 1962 she received an invitation from the Governments of the German Federal Republic and France to visit universities, industrial training centres and other educational establishments.

Fernando says that at the end of 1962 his mother retired from all her positions after having completed 35 years of service. But the following year the University of Chile honoured her by appointing her an Extraordinary Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and Education, to which she returned to teach at the Pedagogical Institute and at the School of Psychology of the University of Chile. Between 1963 and 1968 she was head of the Department of Mathematics of the Faculty of Philosophy and Education of the same University. Between 1964 and 1973 she served as president of the Centre for Teachers of Mathematics and Physics of Santiago. In an effort to spread the teaching of modern Mathematics - specifically, set theory - she, together with Professor María Lara, published the book "New Mathematics for Parents." She continued to teach at the Kent School until 1985, the year in which she formally ceased teaching. She was then 77 years old.
In 1992 she was nominated for the National Prize for Education but, unfortunately, despite her undoubted merits, she was not awarded the prize. In April 2008, on her 100th birthday, Antoine received the Medal of Scientific Merit, awarded annually by the Faculty of Sciences of the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, for her contribution to the mathematical training of important contingents of students from secondary and university education. Juanita Gallardo Ramírez writes [15]:-
She is a small woman, with sparkling eyes, white hair, dressed in bright colours, an easy smile, a firm voice to tell me that sometimes she forgets a name. It is hard to believe that she is over 70 years old, but I have come to her house knowing that when she turned 100, in April 2008, she received the Medal of Scientific Merit from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Santiago de Chile.
On Saturday, 1 June 2013, the Liceo José Victorino Lastarria celebrated its centenary. The director of the Liceo Lastarria, Malva Venegas, gave a speech in which she related the history of the school. Then Antoine, who was one of the guests, asked to be allowed to speak. Venegas said [2]:-
It was not contemplated that she would speak, because we thought that at her age she would not want to, but she herself asked for it. She got up on the stage, used the microphone and recalled her years teaching at the Liceo Lastarria. She mentioned that she not only started to take classes there, but she also met her future husband.
Boris Chornik had been taught by Antoine and then taught in the Physics Department at the University of Chile. He spoke in 2013 about visiting his 105 year old teacher [2]:-
Two years ago, a colleague challenged me with a geometry theorem. It was a mental exercise, to remember the things we learned in high school, but for me, more linked to physics, it was complicated. One day I went to Antoine's house, I put the problem to her and the next day she called me to give the answer. I often visit her and we talk about current affairs, politics and, of course, mathematics.
Antoine replied:-
It was an easy problem that I was able to solve. ... I like to prove theorems, although I'm not looking for new ones, I prefer to read and do sudokus. But if people come to ask me something, I try to help.
Marta Macho Stadler writes [16]:-
Doña "Guaco" - as she was called by people close to her - passed away on 22 August 2015 at the age of 107. She attributed her good physical and emotional state to the yoga exercises that she practiced for thirty years, until the late 1990s, when she injured her shoulder. From then on she devoted herself to wushu martial arts. Until shortly before her death, she was still doing gymnastics a couple of times a week, reading historical novels and spending part of her time doing sudoku puzzles. She also, from time to time, received a student who needed help to solve a mathematics problem.

References (show)

  1. C Antoine, Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini: Maestra y Educadora, (18 April 2008).
  2. Benjamín Blanco A, La profesora de 105 años que aún resuelve teoremas, Latercera (21 July 2013).
  3. Cien años de vida celebró destacada académica de la U de Chile, Universidad de Chile (2022).
  4. Datos claves sobre Guacolda, guacoldaantoinelazzerini.blogspot (2016).
  5. Fallece Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini, primera decana de la Universidad de Santiago, Diario Uchile. Radio Universidad de Chile (23 August 2015).
  6. Guacolda Antoine: "Siempre me piropeaban", Crónica (3 May 2008).
  7. Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini: Fallece primera decana de la Ex Universidad Técnica del Estado, Universidad de Santiago de Chile (22 August 2015).
  8. Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini (1908-2015), Mujeres Bacanas.
  9. Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini: Outstanding Chilean women from the world of mathematics, Marca Chile (13 May 2022).
  10. Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini, una Pionera de las Matemáticas, guacoldaantoine.blogspot (23 September 2016).
  11. Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini. Su vida, guacoldaantoinelazzerini.blogspot (2016).
  12. C Gutiérrez and F Gutiérrez, Carlos Grandjot, tres décadas de matemáticas en Chile: 1930-1960, Boletín de la Asociación Matemática Venezolana 11 (1) (2004), 55-84.
  13. C Gutiérrez and F Gutiérrez, Ricardo Poenisch: la profesionalizacion de la ensenanza de las matematicas en Chile (1889-1930), Atenea [Chile] 509 (2014), 187-209.
  14. Homenaje póstumo a la Decana Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini, Universidad de Santiago de Chile (16 March 2017).
  15. J G Ramírez, Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini: La primera mujer académica en Ingeniería, in Vivir enfrentando las flechas, relatos de vida de la EAO-UTE-USACH (Ediciones de la Corporación Cultural Universidad de Santiago de Chile, 2018), 21-34.
  16. M M Stadler, Guacolda Antoine Lazzerini "enseñaba con mucha belleza", Mujeres con ciencia (18 August 2020).
  17. Universidad reafirma compromiso con la equidad de género, Universidad de Santiago de Chile (10 March 2015).

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Guacolda Lazzerini:

  1. The Pedagogical Institute of Chile

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2022