- Williamina Fleming
name = Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming
caption = Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming
May 15, 1857
May 21, 1911
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 Observatoryand 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
starsa letter according to how much hydrogencould be observed in their spectra. Stars classified as A had the most hydrogen, B the next most, and so on. Later, Annie Jump Cannonwould 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 nebulaon 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 Societyof 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 Mexicoawarded her the Guadalupe Almendaromedal 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
Named after her
*Fleming crater on the
Moon(jointly named after her and Alexander Fleming)
publication-date=1911 Jun 30
title=WILLIAMINA PATON FLEMING.
doi = 10.1126/science.33.861.987
* [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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