Art Of The Day

Today we honor and remember Mary Fairfax Somerville, who died on this day in 1872. 

An accomplished science writer, Somerville was born in Jedburgh, Scotland on December 26, 1789. Take a look at this etching by Thomas Moran to get a sense of the landscape Somerville experienced as a child. 

Bright and precocious, Somerville struggled for her education. Though she was taught to read, she was not taught to write. She had only one year of formal education at a boarding school. Most of her learning was self-guided, and she relied on her family library for information. At the age of 24, Somerville married a cousin, Samuel Greig. Somerville’s husband did not prevent her from continuing her studies, but he was not supportive of her intellectual endeavors. After Grieg’s death, Somerville was fully able to devote herself to her studies of mathematics and the natural sciences. In 1812, Somerville married again (this time to another cousin, William Somerville), and her second husband was openly proud of his wife’s intelligence and curiosity. When the couple relocated to London in 1816, Somerville became acquainted with some of the top scientific minds of Britain. Her first book, entitled Mechanism of the Heavens, was met with acclaim. Because of this publication, Somerville (along with Caroline Herschel) became one of the first women honorary members of the Royal Astronomical Society. 

Somerville went on to publish remarkably readable books on various scientific topics ranging from astronomy to physics to geography and meteorology.

Thomas Moran (English, 1837 – 1926)

The Bridge in the Pass of Glencoe

, 1888
Etching and roulette on paper, 9 ¼ x 11 5/8 in. (23.5 c 29.53 cm)
Gift of J. Thomas and Debra Gabrielson Lee, 2006.267