Mary SomervilleMary Somerville
British Physicist
1780 – 1872 A.D.

Mary Somerville, a British physicist, born in Jedburough, Scotland. SHe was the daughter of Vice Admiral William Fairfax, and chiefly through her own efforts acquired a thorough education, particularly in mathematics.

In 1804 she married Samuel Grieg, then Russian Consular Agent in London, where she went to reside. Left a widow in 1807, she returned to Edinburgh, and in 1812 married her cousin, William Somerville, M.D., and removed to London.

Here she attracted attention by some experiments on the magnetic influence of the violet rays in the solar spectrum, the results of which were published i the Philosophical Transactions of 1826. Lord Brougham then suggested that she should prepare for the Library of Useful Knowledge a summary of Laplace’s work, which was published under the title Mechanisms of the Heavens in 1831. This work led to her election as an honorary member of the royal astronomical society, and her bust by Chantrey was placed in their hall. In 1834 she published The Connection of the Physical Sciences and the following year received a pension of £200, subsequently increased to £300. Soon afterward she went to Italy on account of the health of her husband, and there resided during the rest of her life, principally in Florence, Rome, and Naples.

Her next work was Physical Geography (two volumes, 1848), a history of the earth in its whole material organization, and of animal and vegetable life. Her last publication was Molecular and Microscopic Science.

Mrs. Sommerville was a member of many foreign societies – in 1869 received the Victoria medal of the royal geographical society, and in the same year the first gold medal ever awarded by the Italian geographical society.

In her ninety-second year she read books in the higher mathematics four or five hours daily, solved the problems, and to the day of her death was occupied in the revision and completion of a treatise on the Theory of Differences.”

During the last few years she noted down some memoirs of her long and remarkable career, which were published by her daughter, Martha, in 1873.


Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.

Quote by Mary Somerville