Cora Eloísa Ratto de Sadosky

Quick Info

3 January 1912
Buenos Aires, Argentina
2 January 1981
Barcelona, Spain

Cora Ratto de Sadosky was a mathematician and political activist who taught at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina for ten years before a coup in Argentina forced her to resign. She spent her last years in exile in Spain.


Cora Ratto de Sadosky was given the name Corina Eloísa Ratto and only used the name Ratto de Sadosky after her marriage to Manuel Sadosky. She was the daughter of Livio Benito Ratto and Francisca Butta. Livio Benito Ratto (born 1882), the son of Francesco and Sabina Ratto who were both born in Italy, was, as a representative of Club Santa Rosa, one of the founders of the River Plate football club and served as its president 1917-1919. Livio and Francisca Ratto had three children: Corina Eloísa Ratto (born 3 January 1912), the subject of this biography, Carlos Francisco Ratto (born 23 May 1913), and Livia "Lía" Susana Ratto (born 26 December 1916).

Cora Ratto attended schools in Buenos Aires and, around 1932, she entered the Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales of the University of Buenos Aires. There she studied mathematics with the aim of becoming a high school mathematics teacher. During her undergraduate years, Ratto was highly involved in university political activities. She became one of the leaders of the Argentine University Federation (the FUA, Federación Universitaria Argentina) which had been founded in 1918 with the aim of changing the university system so that teachers, graduates, and students would participate in the government of the universities. There were other causes she felt passionately about, fighting against oppression, discrimination, and racism. She felt strongly about discrimination against women in the exact sciences and this led to her becoming a leader of the student movement. During her undergraduate years the Chaco War was being fought between Bolivia and Paraguay from 1932 to 1935. This war was being fought for control of a region which was rich in oil and Cora Ratto felt that the war was being forced on her neighbours Bolivia and Paraguay by the United States and Great Britain; she strongly denounced the war.

The mathematics staff in the University of Buenos Aires when Ratto was a student consisted of Julio Rey Pastor, the only paid professor, and Juan Carlos Vignaux, who held an honorary position. There were, however, a number of outstanding students of mathematics at that time. Manuel Sadosky was in the same class as Ratto and Yanny Frankel was also a student. In 1935 Mischa Cotlar joined them when he began studying mathematics at the University of Buenos Aires. Manuel Sadosky writes [10]:-
After a short while, Mischa Cotlar told Cora that he missed playing the piano very much. Music allowed him to take refuge from the often dismal surrounding reality to enter a world of peace and harmony. Cora immediately invited him to play at her home and, after a long argument, convinced Mischa to accept the offer. Cora's mother delighted in Mischa's playing and always considered it a great personal vindication to have met a talented young man willing to use an instrument she had not succeeded in making important to her own children.
Cora Ratto graduated in Physical-Mathematical Sciences in September 1937 and in the same year she married Manuel Sadosky. Her daughter wrote in [7]:-
In 1937 Cora Ratto married Manuel Sadosky, her lifelong companion both in mathematics and in political activities. Manuel was a bookish and intense young man from a poor Jewish family whose parents had fled the pogroms in tsarist Russia in 1905. Since the thirties were times of rampant anti-Semitism, Cora chose to use her married name, Cora Ratto de Sadosky, from that time on. ... Cora and Manuel shared a long and happy marriage. Their house was always full of friends, attracted by a hostess who was not only a superb cook, but also a great conversationalist, mixing witticism with wisdom and genuine caring. Cora and Manuel had one daughter [Cora Sadosky] - who also became a mathematician - and one granddaughter, who became the greatest joy of her life. Both of them are called Cora!
The Spanish Civil War had started in 1936 fought between the Republicans and the Nationalists. The Republicans supported the left-wing Popular front government. Argentina, with its close Spanish roots, was much involved and the Asociación Femenina Antiguerrera (Women's Anti-war Association) was formed that carried out activities in favour of the Republicans. Ratto de Sadosky participated in this Anti-war Association playing an active part in collecting food and organising events with speakers against the war. The rise of the Nazis in Germany was also something that Ratto de Sadosky strongly opposed and after Germany invaded Russia in 1941, she together with Maria Rosa Oliver created La junta de la Victoria, a women's organisation aimed at defending democracy and supporting the allied effort against the Nazis. Ratto de Sadosky and other members of the Victory Union collected money, clothing and food to send to the troops. La junta de la Victoria was highly successful with around 45,000 members by 1943. Ratto de Sadosky served as General Secretary and was one of the delegates of La junta de la Victoria at the First International Congress of Women in Paris at the end of 1945. In this role she played a part in founding the International Democratic Federation of Women. Cora Sadosky writes [7]:-
In 1945 La junta, with Cora at its helm, had 50,000 volunteers - in a country with fewer than 12 million people - and made a substantial contribution to the Allies' war efforts with money, clothing, and food for the fighting troops. Not only was La junta significant for its solidarity against the Nazis, but it was the first women's mass organisation of its size in Latin American history. In December 1945, as one of two representatives of her organisation, Cora was a founding member of the International Women's Union at its first meeting in Paris.
Manuel Sadosky worked for his doctorate in physics and mathematics at the University of Buenos Aires, and then, after World War II ended, went for post-doctoral studies to the Henri Poincaré Institute in Paris, advised by Georges Darmois and Maurice Fréchet, supported by a scholarship from the government of France. Ratto de Sadosky travelled to Paris with her husband and baby daughter Cora Sadosky in October 1946 and there she undertook research for a doctorate advised by Maurice Fréchet. However, she did not complete her doctorate at this time since the family left Paris and went to Italy in January 1948 where Manuel Sadosky worked with Mauro Picone at the Istituto per l'Applicazioni del Calcolo in Rome. Ratto de Sadosky and her husband returned to Argentina in 1949.

Juan Perón had been elected president of Argentina in 1946 and in 1949 introduced Constitutional Reforms. These were not supported by all and were opposed by the Radicals who declared the Peronists did not have the required majority to make constitutional changes. Universities lost their autonomy and opponents of the Constitutional Reforms pointed out that Perón had centralised too much power in his own hands [7]:-
The Sadoskys returned to Argentina during a period of turmoil and political repression. They were banned from teaching at public universities, as were all those not affiliated with the party in power, and Cora went to work at a commercial enterprise to support the family.
In 1955 Perón began to lose the support of the military and, after a failed coup in June 1955, another in September 1955 succeeded and Perón fled to exile in Spain. Although there was an unstable political situation over the following years, the universities regained their autonomy in 1956. Ratto de Sadosky was able to restart her doctoral studies at the University of Buenos Aires advised by Mischa Cotlar. She was awarded a doctorate in 1959 for her thesis Condiciones de continuidad de operadores potenciales generalizados, con métrica hiperbólica . She begins the thesis as follows:-
In this work we extend to hyperbolic potential operators (in two-dimensional spaces) some basic continuity properties of elliptic potential operators.
She gives the following acknowledgements:-
The subject of this work was proposed to me by Professor Mischa Cotlar, who has directed the research and has taught and helped me with a dedication that requires my recognition and admiration. In the particular circumstances in which I began this study, after years away from mathematical work, it is not only Dr Cotlar whom I must thank for his encouragement and help, but also several of the members of the mathematics faculty and, in particular, Dr Alberto González Domínguez who prompted my return to work with his proverbial enthusiasm and generosity. I cannot omit the thanks I owe to Dr Oscar Varsavsky for his friendly and invaluable advice.
For the ten years, 1956-1966, she was at the University of Buenos Aires and helped build up mathematical studies there [7]:-
From 1958 to 1966 she was an associate professor of mathematics. (She never became a full professor, nor did she achieve due recognition for her research. While she did not complain about having a harder time in her profession for being a woman, she was acutely aware that this was the case.) During her decade at the university, Cora initiated and edited a celebrated series of research publications (the first volume, 'Mathematics and Quantum Physics', was written by Laurent Schwartz, Fields Medal, 1950, the third, 'Singular integrals and Hyperbolic Partial Differential Equations', by the Argentinean-born mathematician Alberto Calderón, National Medal of Science, 1991); this series became an important resource for library interchanges. She also organised a host of advanced courses for several generations of mathematicians, physicists, and chemists, many of whom later became leading scientists in the United States, Latin America, Canada, and Europe. Cora was most remarkable as a teacher. She devoted a part of her immense energy to teaching the first courses in calculus and algebra. She was idolised by her students, who clung to her every word and used to say that they "were willing to go to the barricades for modern algebra!" With her husband, she co-organised an entire teaching system for several hundred students, where thanks to the use of scores of senior and regular teaching assistants and student mentors, they gave a personalised education to each and everyone.
Ratto de Sadosky taught calculus and algebra, and she taught first year classes on mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Together with Manuel Sadosky, she designed a teaching system that allowed her to provide personalised education to her students whom she inspired with her own passion and mathematical approach. She taught algebra courses for several years and she used her experience with these courses to co-author the textbook Introducción al Algebra Lineal (1966) with Mischa Cotlar. A review of this book states [1]:-
This work takes the reader from what in the U.S. is high-school algebra to the main concepts of (pre-homological) abstract and linear algebra. A course employing this book as text should be able to both initiate the student to the concepts and techniques of algebra and prepare him for graduate-level work. The plan of the book is as follows: an introduction (discussing the various number systems), algebraic structures (relations and operations, propositional algebra, groups, rings, fields, polynomials), and linear algebra (vector spaces, matrices and linear transformations, linear and p-linear forms, determinants, systems of linear equations, inner products, and eigenvalues - all over the reals). There are many examples, carefully presented; while there are relatively few exercises, many of the simple verifications are left to the student. Relationships between different structures are brought out well. For this reader, strong points include a careful treatment of the various "relations and operations", construction of the splitting field of a polynomial, and the presentation of determinants (as p-linear alternating forms (after a discussion of the conventional determinants of orders two and three). ...
There were two other achievement by Ratto de Sadosky made during her ten years at the University of Buenos Aires which we should mention. One of these is academic, the other political. The academic achievement was setting up in 1957, in collaboration with Mischa Cotlar, the Fundación Alberto Einstein, with the aim to assist the study of talented young people who were lacking in financial resources by providing scholarships. It also provided mentoring for these young people. The second achievement was creating in 1965 the monthly magazine Columna 10 which, by linking science, ethics and politics, analysed events such as the war of Vietnam and the nuclear arms race. This was edited by Mischa Cotlar, Cora Ratto de Sadosky and the architect Francisco Bullrich. They write in their first editorial:-
We are a group of independent people who, despite having different ideologies and different philosophical positions, believe we can carry out together a task that we all find useful: to provide as many people as possible with as much complementary information as possible, to encourage the formation of their own judgments that each one feels in a position to justify for themselves.
Each issue opened with a brief note explaining the reason for its name:-
Newspapers generally have nine columns; 'Columna 10' aspires to contain information that is not normally disseminated and that may be useful for a correct understanding of the current reality.
As an example of the content, the second issue contains the article Barbarism in the free world. War of atrocities in Vietnam by Bertrand Russell.

Production of the magazine Columna 10 ended with the ninth issue in May 1966 when an Argentinian coup made continuing impossible. Arturo Illia had become President of Argentina following elections in June 1963. He tried to split the Perónists, who controlled the unions, from their exiled leader Perón. The Perónists reacted by supporting a coup against President Arturo Illia in June 1966 and General Juan Carlos Onganía, the commander in chief of the army, took control of the country. Following the military takeover, the University of Buenos Aires was attacked by police in July 1966. Manuel Sadosky and Cora Ratto de Sadosky were at a Board of Directors meeting on the night of 29 July when the police arrived at the Faculty and began to attack and arrest teachers, graduates and students on what became known as the 'Night of the Long Batons'. Manuel, Cora and their daughter all resigned their positions at the university in protest. They were not alone, for around 400 faculty members resigned in protest at the police brutality directed at the university staff. From this time on, Ratto de Sadosky concentrated her efforts on trying to publicise the human rights abuses which the military regime was perpetrating.

For a newspaper article which gives details of the problems that the Sadosky family experienced in 1966, see THIS LINK.

Many academics left the country immediately after the coup of 1966 but Manuel Sadosky and Cora Ratto de Sadosky spent several years living part of the time in Buenos Aires and part in Montevideo. In 1973 Juan Perón returned to Argentina and became President again on 12 October 1973. He died in the following July, but was succeeded by his wife Isabel Perón. From 1973 to 1976 the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (known as the Triple A) was a Perónist death squad that killed leftist academics, politicians, union members etc. In 1974 the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance threatened Cora Ratto de Sadosky and her family who left Argentina and went into exile in Caracas, Venezuela, where they lived until 1979. Their apartment in Caracas was the meeting place for many Argentines. In 1979, together with her husband, she moved to Barcelona, Spain where she continued fighting against oppression. She rejected the human rights violations perpetrated during the last military dictatorship and assisted other exiles who had fled to Spain.

References (show)

  1. D Carlson, Review: Introducción al álgebra. Nociones de álgebra lineal, by Mischa Cotlar and Cora Ratto de Sadosky, Mathematical Reviews MR0213197 (35 #4061).
  2. Cora Ratto de Sadosky (1912-1981), Committee for Women in Mathematics, International Mathematical Union.
  3. Cora Ratto de Sadosky (1912-1981), Mathematical Association of America (1 March 2012).
  4. Cora Ratto de Sadosky, científica, La Voz (21 January 2014).
  5. S M Deutsch, Argentine Women Against Fascism: The Junta de la Victoria, 1941-1947, Politics, Religion & Ideology 13 (2) (2012), 221-236.
  6. Maruglobina, Mujeres en STEAM: "Quién fue Corina Eloísa Ratto?", lasdesistemas (29 October 2019).én-fue-corina-elo%C3%ADsa-ratto-303fc1e0dabb
  7. C Sadosky, Cora Ratto de Sadosky, in B A Case and A M Leggett (eds.), Complexities: Women in Mathematics (Princeton University Press, 2016).
  8. C Sadosky, Cora Ratto de Sadosky, Kovalevskaia Fund Newsletter 12 (1) (1997), 5-6.
  9. C Sadosky, Cora Ratto de Sadosky, Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Agnes Scott College (12 January 2022).
  10. M Sadosky, My friend Mischa Cotlar, in Cora Sadosky (ed.), Analysis and partial differential equations (Marcel Dekker Inc., New York and Basel, 1990), xxv-xxvii.
  11. A M Saucedo, Cora Ratto: en búsqueda de armonía, Vidas científicas, Mujeres con ciencia (2020).
  12. A M Saucedo, Cora Ratto: en búsqueda de armonía, Cuaderno de Cultura Científica (26 October 2020).

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