Williamina Fleming

Williamina Fleming

Infobox Scientist
name = Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming
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caption = Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming
birth_date = May 15, 1857
birth_place = Dundee, Scotland
death_date = May 21, 1911
death_place = Boston
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nationality = Scotland
ethnicity =
field = Astronomy
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Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming (May 15, 1857 – May 21, 1911), astronomer, was born in Dundee, Scotland, to Robert Stevens and Mary Walker Stevens. She attended public schools in Dundee, and at the age of 14, she became a pupil-teacher. She married James Orr Fleming, and they moved to the U.S. and settled in Boston, Massachusetts, when she was 21. While she was pregnant with her son, Edward, her husband abandoned her, and she had to find work to support herself and Edward.

She worked as a maid in the home of Professor Edward Charles Pickering. Pickering became frustrated with his male assistants at the Harvard College Observatory and famously declared his maid could do a better job.

So in 1881, Pickering hired Fleming to do clerical work at the observatory. While there, she devised and helped implement a system of assigning stars a letter according to how much hydrogen could be observed in their spectra. Stars classified as A had the most hydrogen, B the next most, and so on. Later, Annie Jump Cannon would improve upon this work to develop a simpler classification system based on temperature.

Fleming contributed to the cataloguing of stars that would be published as the Henry Draper Catalogue. In nine years, she catalogued more than 10,000 stars. During her work, she discovered 59 gaseous nebulae, over 310 variable stars, and 10 novae. In 1907, she published a list of 222 variable stars she had discovered.

In 1888, Mrs. Fleming discovered the Horsehead nebula on Harvard plate B2312, describing the bright nebula (later known as IC-434) as having "a semicircular indentation 5 minutes in diameter 30 minutes south of Zeta [Orionis] ." William Pickering, who took the photograph, speculated that the spot was dark obscuring matter. All subsequent articles and books seem to deny Fleming and W. H. Pickering credit, because the compiler of the first Index Catalogue, J. L. E. Dreyer, eliminated Mrs. Fleming's name from the list of objects then discovered by Harvard, attributing them all instead merely to "Pickering" (taken by most readers to mean E. C. Pickering, Director of Harvard College Observatory.) But, by the release of the second Index Catalogue by Dreyer in 1908, Mrs. Fleming and others at Harvard were famous enough to receive proper credit.

Fleming was placed in charge of dozens of women hired to do mathematical classifications and edited the observatory's publications. In 1899, Fleming was given the title of Curator of Astronomical Photographs. In 1906, she was made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society of London, the first American woman to be so elected. Soon after, she was appointed honorary fellow in astronomy of Wellesley College. Shortly before her death, the Astronomical Society of Mexico awarded her the Guadalupe Almendaro medal for her discovery of new stars. She published "A Photographic Study of Variable Stars" (1907) and "Spectra and Photographic Magnitudes of Stars in Standard Regions" (1911).

She died in Boston of pneumonia.


Named after her
*Fleming crater on the Moon (jointly named after her and Alexander Fleming)


id = PMID:17799863
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17799863
publication-date=1911 Jun 30
doi = 10.1126/science.33.861.987

External links

* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/bib_query?1990PASP..102.1337W The discovery of early photographs of the Horsehead nebula, by Waldee & Hazen]
* [http://home.earthlink.net/~astro-app/horsehead/B33-19thC_4.htm The Horsehead Nebula in the 19th Century, by Waldee]
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1911ApJ....34..314C Astrophysical Journal, vol. 34, p.314]
* [http://www.astrosociety.org/education/resources/womenast_bib02.html#3c Bibliography] from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific


* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1912MNRAS..72..261. MNRAS 72 (1912) 261]

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