Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tonight's Sky for December 26: Mary Somerville is Born (1780)

It was on this date in 1780 that Mary Somerville, one of the first women to become famous in the field of astronomy, was born.

Somerville's tale is one of struggle against adversity. At the time, girls were not only often denied access to an education, but were often discouraged from seeking one. Mary's situation was no different and her parents even blamed her quest for knowledge for the death of her own sister! While giving up on formal education and taking the societal path of a well-connected lady (her father was a doctor), Mary continued to study in secret and, with the inheritance she got upon the death of her husband, she was free to pursue intellectual interests, with the support of her second husband, eventually becoming known as both a writer and translator.

She was also one of the first women to be inducted into the Royal Astronomical Society, which she achieved in 1835, the same year that Caroline Herschel, William Herschel's sister and assistant, received the same honor. In 1868, Somerville was awarded the Victoria Cross of the Royal Geographical Society.

Somerville died in 1871, aged 91.

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