Mary Somerville

Mary Somerville (née Fairfax, formerly Greig; 26 December 1780 – 29 November 1872)[1] was a Scottish scientist, writer, and polymath. She studied mathematics and astronomy, and in 1835 she was elected together with Caroline Herschel as the first female Honorary Members of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Mary Somerville
Painting of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips (1834)
Born
Mary Fairfax

(1780-12-26)26 December 1780
Died29 November 1872(1872-11-29) (aged 91)
Resting placeEnglish Cemetery, Naples, Italy
NationalityScottish
CitizenshipBritish
AwardsPatron's Medal (1869)
Scientific career
FieldsScience writing
Mathematics

When John Stuart Mill, the philosopher and economist, organised a massive petition to Parliament to give women the right to vote, he had Somerville put her signature first on the petition.

In 1834 she became the first person to be described in print as a 'scientist'.[2] When she died in 1872, The Morning Post declared in her obituary that "Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science".[3][4]

Somerville College, a college of the University of Oxford, is named after her, reflecting the virtues of liberalism and academic success which the college wished to embody.[5] She is featured on the front of the Royal Bank of Scotland polymer £10 note launched in 2017, alongside a quotation from her work The Connection of the Physical Sciences.[6]


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