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Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



As a woman growing up in the late eighteenth century, Mary Somerville (1780-1872) was denied access to most formal education and getting a university education was completely out of the question. Yet her interests in nature, science, and mathematics, coupled with an intense curiosity and tenacious desire to learn led her to eventually be known and respected by scientists, mathematicians, and intellectuals in both Britain and France. She is one of the important woman in the history of mathematics, even though she did not publish original work. However, she was a talented writer, producing several significant works, including Mechanism of the Heavens, a translation and amplification of Laplaces great work, and, at the end of her life, a series of Personal Reflections. Reading through her reflections gives an interesting glimpse into her personality, her opportunities for social networking, and some of what motivated her work. In this talk I hope to use these reflections to summarize aspects of her life and to introduce her work. We will see how, as a self-taught woman, she was able to gain access to the upper echelons of scientific society and how, as a committed Christian, her faith was evident in both her life and her work.



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