Maria do Pilar Baptista Ribeiro

Quick Info

5 October 1911
Lisbon, Portugal
28 March 2011
Alcabideche, Cascais, Portugal

Pilar Ribeiro was a co-founder of the journal Gazeta de Matemática and co-founder of the Portuguese Mathematical Society, serving as its First Secretary. Along with her husband, the mathematician Hugo Ribeira, she spent 30 years in exile because of her opposition to the authoritarian Estado Novo regime in Portugal.


Pilar Ribeiro was the daughter of Joaquim Rodrigues Carreira and Luísa Loureiro Peres. Let us note at this point that although Pilar Ribeiro is always known by that name, in fact Ribeiro is her married name. She was a student at the Maria Amália Vaz de Carvalho high school in Lisbon. This secondary school, founded in 1885 with the aim of "the emancipation of women through education," was the first high school for girls in Portugal. Pilar graduated from the high school in 1929 and in the same year began her studies of mathematics at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon.

At the University of Lisbon, Pilar met a brilliant mathematics student, Hugo Baptista Ribeiro (1910-1988) who had been born in Lisbon on 16 May 1910 to parents Mario Baptista Ribeiro and Emília Baptista Ribeiro. Pilar and Hugo shared strong anti-fascist views at a time when the country had become, in 1933, a right-wing dictatorship run by the Estado Novo which banned trade unions, controlled the media with strict censorship and created a Political Police to arrest political opponents. Pilar graduated from the University of Lisbon in 1933, and in the following year she married Hugo Ribeiro.

After graduating, Pilar Ribeiro served an internship to qualify as a mathematics teacher. This she served in the Pedro Nunes Liceu Normal de Lisboa, a school named for the Portuguese mathematician Pedro Nunes (1502-1578).This school had been founded in 1906 and, in 1930, it had been classified as a normal high school, with the mission to support teacher training. After the internship, Pilar Ribeiro was appointed to teach mathematics at the Secondary School Luís de Camões. This school, founded in 1902, was named for the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões and became one of the largest and most prestigious secondary schools in Lisbon. Ribeiro continued to study mathematics, attending the Analysis Seminar at the University of Lisbon, organised by António Aniceto Monteiro (1907-1980). Monteiro had been an undergraduate at the University of Lisbon, then had undertaken research for his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne advised by Maurice Fréchet. He was awarded his doctorate from the University of Paris in 1936 for his thesis Sur l'additivité des noyaux de Fredholm, then returned to teach at the University of Lisbon. During this period, Pilar Ribeiro's husband, Hugo Ribeiro continued to study mathematics at the University of Lisbon, but also took part in youth association activities and gave private lessons.

In addition to her mathematical activities, Pilar Ribeiro was active politically. With her husband she attended the Congress of the Socialist Youth of Spain in 1934 and she joined the Portuguese Women's Association for Peace founded in Lisbon on 11 November 1935. This Association was concerned about:-
... constant threats that hover over the world and startle the hearts of all women, women - wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and brides - who would have to regret, once again, the fate of their loved ones.
This political activity made the Ribeiros a target for the Political Police and at one point Hugo was arrested for taking part in the activities of Socorro Vermelho Internacional, the International Workers Aid Society set up to support political prisoners. He was forced into exile in Spain but, after a period, was able to return to Portugal.

Pilar Ribeiro is perhaps best known today for her work as a founder member of the Portuguese Mathematical Society (Sociedade Portuguesa de Matemática). Setting up any Society in Portugal at this time was almost impossible due to the political situation. Political parties were banned and the government used censorship, propaganda, and political imprisonment in running the country. Many mathematicians, believing in the importance of scientific knowledge and education, felt that these ends could only be achieved through democratic means. It was also a time when mathematics was flourishing in Portugal. The first moves were the founding of the journal Portugaliae Mathematica in 1937, the Mathematical Seminar in Lisbon in 1938, and the journal Gazeta de Matemática in 1939 of which Pilar Ribeiro was a co-founder. On 12 December 1940, the Portuguese Mathematical Society was founded with Pilar Ribeiro as one of the founding members, in fact member number 1. The first committee elected to run the Society consisted of Pedro José da Cunha (President), Victor Hugo Duarte Lemos (Vice President), António Aniceto Monteiro (General Secretary), Manuel Zaluar Nunes (Treasurer), Maria Pilar Baptista Ribeiro (First Secretary) and Augusto Sá da Costa (Second Secretary). Pilar Ribeiro continued as First Secretary for 1940-41 and was very active in promoting the new Society. We should note, however, that Portuguese regime did not allow the Society to be officially registered so it effectively operated as an illegal organisation until the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of Estado Novo in 1974.

Hugo Ribeiro obtained a scholarship from the Institute for High Culture which supported him to undertake research at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich for his Ph.D. Pilar Ribeiro went to Zurich with her husband in 1942 and attended advanced mathematics courses at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. She sent back three papers [8], [9], [10] in 1942-43 for publication the Gazeta de Matemática, entitled About teaching Mathematics in Switzerland. The first begins (we have translated the Portuguese text to English) [8]:-
The Federal Polytechnic School E.T.H., seeks, as a technical school, mainly in recent years, especially through its courses and exercises relating to applied sciences, to develop the sense of adapting theoretical knowledge to the demands of industrial life. In addition, it seeks, in the contact between teachers and students, whether in exercise classes, colloquiums or seminars, to prepare them for independent work, which will gradually take the form of research work.
Later in this first paper, she describes in detail the structure of the mathematical courses. Here is a short extract [8]:-
At the School of Mathematics and Physics, teaching is organised in order to prepare not only secondary school teachers, but also actuaries and physicists for industry. The study plans comprise eight semesters.

The first four semesters are dedicated to having students acquire an indispensable technique with calculus. The exercises get students used to working on their own by developing their initiative. They move from concrete problems, in seminars, to broader issues and to the study and discussion of recent research. This last mentioned work takes place in the last four semesters in which students are free to choose their direction, which allows them to orient their interest in this or that branch of Mathematics or Physics. The purpose of the Mathematics Seminar is to initiate students into mathematical thinking and personal inquiry. It seeks to achieve this end through student presentations of mathematics memoirs, problem solving and discussion with teachers.
In 1945 she published the paper News about teaching Mathematics in Zurich in the Gazeta de Matemática. It begins [11]:-
Already in articles in 'Gazeta de Matemática' I gave information about some aspects of the teaching of Mathematics at the Federal Polytechnic School of Zürich. Now, after having regularly attended lessons in Mathematics and Descriptive Geometry at a secondary school, the Oberrealscbule in Zürich, I find it useful to communicate some results of my first observations.
Hugo Ribeiro undertook research for his Ph.D. in Zurich advised by Paul Bernays and Heinz Hopf and was awarded the degree for his thesis Lattices des groupes abeliens finis . His scholarship was ended by the Institute for High Culture before he had completed his studies, and Pilar worked at the Oberrealscbule in Zurich to support them. In 1946 Pilar Ribeiro and her husband returned to Lisbon and she was elected again to fill the position of First Secretary of the Portuguese Mathematical Society serving for the session 1946-47. Hugo Ribeiro was General Secretary of the Society for the same session.

António de Oliveira Salazar had been Prime Minister of Portugal from 1932 and he had reorganised his Political Police in 1945 as the International Police for the Defence of the State. By 1947 Hugo Ribeiro's position as an academic and well-known active opponent of Salazar's regime put him in serious danger and Hugo and Pilar Ribeiro were forced into exile. They arrived in the United States on 6 October 1947 and travelled to the University of California at Berkeley where Hugo taught as a visiting professor from 1947 to 1949. While still in California, on 25 May 1950, Pilar made an application for American naturalisation. She worked on a translation of David Hilbert's Grundlagen der Geometrie (1899) into Portuguese. It was published as Fundamentos da Geometria (1951) with Maria do Pilar Ribeiro and José da Silva Paulo as co-translators. They write:-
The translators are hopeful that a careful study of the various problems in this book will indirectly contribute to implanting the idea that, in general, the poor quality of geometry teaching in our schools is only superficially due to pedagogical deficiencies, but rather they find themselves believing it is due to the subject being taught with a lack of contact with living current problems, and the indispensable training for the investigation of these problems.
Hugo and Pilar Ribeiro went to Brazil in June 1960, travelling to the Federal University of Pernambuco at Recife. While in Brazil they met the Portuguese mathematician José Cardoso Morgado (1917-2003) and his wife Maria Helena. Morgado and his wife had both been persecuted, and arrested for political reasons in Portugal. In 1947 Morgado had been removed from his teaching position in Lisbon and had survived by giving private mathematics lessons until he, together with Maria Helena de Vinha Novais whom he married in 1955, went to Brazil in June 1960.

In September 1960, Pilar and her husband left Brazil and returned to the United States travelling to Lincoln, Nebraska where their address was 1818 Morningside Drive. Later, in 1961, they moved to Pennsylvania State University, where Hugo was appointed a Professor of Mathematics and Pilar was an Instructor in Mathematics.

On 25 April 1974 the Carnation Revolution put an end to the authoritarian regime of Estado Novo in Portugal and Hugo and Pilar Ribeiro were free to return to Portugal. From 1976 to 1980, Pilar Ribeiro was a professor at the University of Porto and at its graduate Abel Salazar Biomedical Institute. Hugo Ribeiro, who also taught at the University of Porto, died in 1988 and in January 2005 Pilar donated five boxes of his correspondence to the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.

Pilar Ribeiro died when only just over six months short of her 100th birthday. A Portuguese postage stamp featuring her was issued on the centenary of her birth.

The following tribute by Penn State University appeared following Pilar Ribeiro's death [12]:-
Mrs Maria do Pilar Ribeiro passed away March 28, 2011. She was the widow of Professor Hugo Ribeiro, who was a member of the faculty of the Mathematics Department at Penn Sate from 1961 to 1976. Pilar also served as an instructor in the Penn State University Mathematics Department.

Pilar would turn 100 years old on October 5, 2011. She was one of the founders of the Portuguese Mathematical Society, in 1941, holding the member number 1. She was also a co-founder of the Mathematics popularisation journal "Gazeta de Matemática", which is still published. Together with her husband and a few others, she was a member of a very dynamic generation that during the war tried to develop Mathematics in Portugal, against the establishment and political persecution. They were all eventually chased by the dictatorial regime that then dominated the country, which was very suspicious of any kind of free thinking. This led the Ribeiros to the United States in the late 1940's, and eventually to Penn State, a place which they loved very much.

References (show)

  1. J Esteves, Maria do Pilar Baptista Ribeiro, in João Esteves e Zília Osório de Castro and Ilda Soares de Abreu e Maria Emília Stone (eds.), Feminae. Dicionário Contemporâneo (Comissão para a Cidadania e Igualdade de Género, 2013).
  2. J Esteves, Maria do Pilar Ribeiro [05/10/1911-28/03/2011], Silenciose memorias (2014).
  3. Hugo Ribeiro (1910-1988), Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.⟨=pt
  4. Maria do Pilar Ribeiro (1911-2011), DebateGraph.
  5. Maria do Pilar Ribeiro, Sociedade Portuguesa de Matemática.
  6. C Marinho, Pilar Ribeiro - A matemática portuguesa faria hoje 102 anos, Sociedade Portuguesa de Matemática (2013).
  7. J Morgado, Para a História da Sociedade Portuguesa de Matemática, Historia de la Matemática Iberica, Matemática en Portugal, El granero común.
  8. M P Ribeiro, Sobre o ensino da Matemática na Suíça, Gazeta de Matemática 12 (1942), 20-22.
  9. M P Ribeiro, Sobre o ensino da Matemática na Suíça, Gazeta de Matemática 13 (1943), 18-19.
  10. M P Ribeiro, Sobre o ensino da Matemática na Suíça, Gazeta de Matemática 14 (1943), 13-15.
  11. M P Ribeiro, Notícia sobre o ensino da Matemática em Zurich, Gazeta de Matemática 24 (1945), 15-17.
  12. Who is Maria do Pilar Ribeiro?, Eberly College of Science, Penn State University (2011).

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Pilar Ribeiro:

  1. Miller's postage stamps

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update December 2021