Mary Somerville. 1780 -1871. Scotland.
Mathematician and Astronomer

Adolescent Mary.

Mary was the second of four children. Her mother taught her to read the Bible, otherwise, she was free to wonder about the gardens and the nearby beaches.

Her father was a naval Vice Admiral, and when he returned from a tour of duty, he insisted that Mary learned how to read and write, and to that end, she was sent to a boarding school.

She stayed just one year but did not like it, so she returned home and taught herself by reading her father's books.

Against her mother's wish, she was able to study algebra and geometry, after convincing her brother's tutors to buy her some books in Edinburgh. Mother preferred she played the piano, paint, and did needlework, but Mary wanted to study astronomy, chemistry, geography, electricity, and magnetism. She had a thirst for knowledge, a knowledge of how the world works

In 1804 Mary was married to one of her cousins and moved to London. He was her mother's choice, and he also did not approve of Mary's scholastic activity, nevertheless, they had time to have two children. However, he died after 3 years, and Mary moved back to her home in Scotland.

Mary the young woman.

In 1812, she remarried another cousin, Dr Somerville, who valued and appreciated Mary's capabilities and took her off to London where she could get opportunities not available in Edinburgh. She studied the solar spectrum, among other topics, and presented a paper on her findings to the royal astronomical society.

She translated Laplace's “Mecanique Celeste” with the title “Mechanisms of the Heavens”, and it became the standard university text on the gravitational theory and planetary motion until the end of the century.

Not only did she translate French into English, but also provided solutions to the gravitational equations related to planetary motion, solutions which had eluded mathematicians to that date.

The book was a major intellectual achievement and established Mary's name in the world of mathematics.

Her second book “On the Connexions of the physical sciences” was also a great success.

From her observations of the planet Uranus, Mary was able to predict the existence of another planet, because of the wobbles in the orbit of Uranus. The planet Jupiter was eventually discovered in 1846.

Mature and confident.

For her entire life, she felt the unfairness of her brothers being educated, with the cost, not a problem, while she was not thought to be worthy of an education. Understandably, during her life, she promoted equal opportunities for females as well as males.

In 1835 she was made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a College at Oxford University was named Somerville College.

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