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Mary Somerville was an exceptional individual. Although self-educated and - as a woman - barred from higher education and membership in scientific societies, her books sold well and were used as textbooks for many decades.

She was born in Jedburgh, Scotland on 26 Dec 1780. Her family's idea of education for girls was needlework and drawing, not mathematics. In fact, Mary excelled at needlework and was an accomplished artist, but mathematics she learned by listening in on her brother's lessons, and from books. Her flair and love for mathematics led her later into the physical sciences.

Somerville taught herself French, and the first book she had published was an English translation and her own exposition of Laplace's work on celestial mechanics. It's a science classic, a highly mathematical discussion of the movements of bodies in the Solar System. She went on to write books that became textbooks on astronomy and on physical geography. Both the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Geographical Society gave her awards, even though, as a woman, she would not have been allowed to attend their meetings.


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Where there is a will, there is a way. What a remarkable woman.

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English astronomer and scholar Mary Acworth Evershed, née Orr, was born at Plymouth Hoe, Devon, England on January 1, 1867.

The Orr family moved to Australia in 1890. Mary had developed an early interest in astronomy, and when she discovered that there was no useful guide available to the southern stars, she prepared An Easy Guide to the Southern Stars with the encouragement of the leading Australian astronomer John Tebbutt (who also wrote a short preface to the book).

The Orr family moved back to England in 1895, and in 1896 Mary met British fellow astronomer John Evershed during an eclipse expedition to Norway. The couple married in 1906, and in the same year John was offered a post as assistant astronomer at Kodaikanal Observatory in India. He accepted the position and John and Mary moved to India in 1907. An active solar observer, Evershed travelled to numerous solar eclipses, including Norway in 1896, Algiers in 1900, Western Australia in 1922, the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1927 and Greece/Aegean Sea in 1936. She was a member of the British Astronomical Association from 1895 and directed the BAA Historical Section from 1930 to 1944.

Mary Evershed was also a distinguished scholar who wrote not only on astronomical topics, but also on Dante. Her 1914 book Dante and the Early Astronomers helped clarify Dante's science, as accurate as it could be given existing knowledge.

Credit: the Society for the History of Astronomy


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American astronomer Anne Sewell Young was born on January 2, 1871 in Bloomington, Wisconsin. In an era when it was difficult for women to pursue higher education – especially in the sciences – she obtained not only bachelor and masters degrees, but also earned a PhD in astronomy from Columbia.

Young worked at Mt Holyoke College in Massachusetts from 1899 to her retirement in 1936. She was a professor of astronomy and the director of the John Payson Williston Observatory. Highly regarded by her students, many of them also became astronomers.

In addition to her work as an educator, she was also a busy astronomer. Variable stars were her special interest and she was one of the original eight who founded the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), still a respected astronomical organization. Young contributed over 6500 variable star observations during her membership and served as the AAVSO's president in 1922-24.


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Janet Akyüz Mattei was born in Bodrum, Turkey on January 2, 1943.

The memorial of her life by the American Association of variable Star Observers (AAVSO) told of their love affair:
Quote
Janet Akyüz Mattei (1943-2004) and the AAVSO were meant to be part of each other's lives. In 1969, Janet was teaching and working towards a Master of Science degree in her native Turkey when she learned about the summer research program under Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit at Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket. That year Janet was introduced to variable stars and the AAVSO — and her future husband, Michael Mattei — on Nantucket: variable stars in her research with Dorrit, and Mike and the AAVSO through its meeting held there in October. A brilliant student and young scientist of great promise with an outgoing and enthusiastic personality, Janet was hired as AAVSO Director Margaret Mayall's assistant in 1972. When Margaret decided to retire, Janet was selected by the AAVSO Council in October 1973 to succeed Margaret as Director, a position she held for over 30 years until her death on March 22, 2004.

The Society for the History of Astronomy writes:
Quote
Mattei went on to serve as director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) from 1973 to 2004 where she actively encouraged the participation of amateur astronomers in variable star observing. Her duties at AAVSO included collecting together observations of variable stars made by amateur astronomers from around the world, as well as organising programmes of observing between professional astronomers and amateur observers. Among the many awards she won were the Leslie Peltier Award of the Astronomical League (1993) and the Jackson-Gwilt Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1995). The minor planet 11695 Mattei, discovered on 22 Mar 1998 during the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) from the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory, was named in her honour.


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Rebecca Anne Wood Elson, Canadian-American astronomer and writer, was born on January 2, 1960 in Montreal, Quebec. A bright star, she would excel both in astronomy and writing in her all-too-short life.

As a teenager, Elson often travelled in Canada with her geologist father as he performed field research. She was 16 when she began her bachelor's degree at Smith College, where her major subject was astronomy. Following this, she earned a master's degree from the University of British Columbia. During that time she undertook summer study visits to the University of St Andrews, and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, which led to her first published research article and her interest in globular clusters of stars.

Her PhD was taken at the Institute of Astronomy and Christ’s College, Cambridge University in England. She also spent time at two Australian observatories. Elson then did her postdoctoral work at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton). In 1987, she was the first-named author on a major review article on star clusters for the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In 1989 Elson took up a Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe College where she taught creative writing, followed by a term teaching a Harvard expository writing course on science and ethics. In that same year, she became the youngest astronomer selected to serve on a US National Academy of Sciences decennial review.

In the early 1990s she returned to the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, UK to accept the research position she would hold for the remainder of her life. Sadly, at the age of 29 Elson had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphona. With treatment, it went into remission and in 1996, she married the Italian artist Angelo di Cintio. However, the cancer returned soon afterwards. Elson died of the disease in Cambridge in May 1999, at the age of 39.

A volume of wide-ranging poetry and essays she wrote from her teens until shortly before her death was published posthumously as A Responsibility to Awe in 2001 in the United Kingdom, and in 2002 in the United States. Some of the works refer to vast concepts of physics and astronomy, often in unexpectedly abstract or playful ways, to reflect aspects of human experience. Others reflect profound joy with life or poignant observations of her impending death. The collection was selected as one of the best books of the year by the magazine The Economist.

In her short career, Elson was also lead author on – or contributed to – seventy scientific contributions, including thirty-eight major articles in the refereed scientific literature research papers.

Source: Wikipedia


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So talented women and scientists. Their dedication and work are amazing.

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Liisi Oterma, born in Turku, Finland on January 6, 1915, was the first woman to get a PhD in astronomy in Finland.

Oterma studied mathematics and astronomy at the University of Turku, and became the assistant of the prominent astronomer Yrjö Väisälä. She worked with him on the search for minor planets. Oterma completed a masters degree in 1938, and from 1941 to 1965 worked as an observer at the university's observatory. In 1955 she got her PhD.

From 1965-1978 Oterma was a professor of the university, and in 1971 succeeded Väisälä as the director of the Tuorla Observatory. She was director of the astronomical-optical research institute at the University of Turku from 1971-1975. And she is credited with the discovery of 54 minor planets, as well as being the discoverer or co-discoverer of three comets.

Oterma is described as quiet and modest and publicity-shy. And astronomy wasn't her only interest. She loved languages and spoke, for example, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Esperanto, Hungarian, English and Arabic. Anders Reiz, a professor at the Copenhagen Observatory, said Oterma was “silent in eleven languages”.

[Source: Wikipedia]


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German astronomer Waltraut Seitter was born on January 13, 1930 in Zwickau, Saxony.

Seitter went to school in Cologne, where she finished high school in 1949, having worked at jobs as tramway ticket collector, refugee aide, and draftswoman. She then entered the university to study physics, mathematics, chemistry and astronomy. Later, with a grant from the Fulbright Program, she was able to continue her studies at Smith College in Massachusetts, obtaining her Master of Arts in physics in 1955, and becoming an astronomy instructor.

From 1958 to 1962 she worked at Hoher List Observatory of Bonn University, obtained her Ph.D., and held the positions of assistant, observer, and supernumerary professor. In 1967, she was a visiting professor of the American Astronomical Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, afterwards professor at Smith College (Eliza Appleton Haven Professor for Astronomy).

In 1975, she was called to the chair of astronomy at Münster University in Germany, becoming the first woman in Germany to hold an astronomy chair. She was director of the astronomical institute up to her retirement in 1995. In Münster, with a dedicated team of young researchers, she organized the Münster Redshift Project (MRSP), a method to derive redshifts from UK Schmidt telescope objective prism plates, and the Muenster Red Sky Survey, a galaxy catalogue of the southern hemisphere, based on ESO Schmidt direct red plates. With the MRSP data, first indications of the action of the cosmological constant were found, shortly before major supernova searches established its existence without doubt.

During most of her career, she also did research on novae and related eruptive stars. Exhibits arranged by her include Women in Astronomy, and Science in Exile (Smith College), as well as Kepler and His Times (Münster1980). She also organized several international astronomical meetings.

[Source: Society for the History of Astronomy]


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Women have made such wonderful contributions.

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