Margaret Bryan, the Blackheath astronomer-

As well as being Dark Skies 2010 Week, it’s also Ada Lovelace Day, when bloggers the world over celebrate women in science and technology in the name of Byron’s pioneering daughter Ada and today I’d like to celebrate Margaret Bryan, working between 1797-1816 in the fields of astronomy and mathematics.

Margaret ran a school for girls in Blackheath, at Bryan House where she lived with her husband and her two daughters (pictured).  She believed mathematics and astronomy were important subjects for girls as well as boys, and the girls who attended her seminary were schooled in what she termed ‘natural philosophy’.  Her method of education was so popular amongst the children and their parents Margaret felt encouraged to publish by subscription, in August of 1797, her Compendius System of Astronomy.  This engraving of Margaret and her daughters was also used as the front cover of the book, which was a pleasing success.  Charles Hutton, Copley Medal winning mathematician recommended Margaret’s lectures, adding to her popularity.  She became a recognised name in the field of mathematics and went on to publish more works, including Lectures on Natural Philosophy in 1806, which included lectures on hydrostatics, optics, pneumatics and acoustics.  Other achievements include creating a game for children based upon astronomy and writing advanced and practical texts for classroom teaching which were also used in schools for young gentlemen.

Mrs Bryan’s work has largely been forgotten, and during the 19thC she was dismissed as a ‘schoolmistress’, but she was clearly a great deal more: bright, beautiful and a blessing to the girls lucky enough to be taught by her.  The continued popularity of Margaret’s school (which included opening a Hyde Park-based seminary) proves there were clever girls with parents who actively encouraged their daughters to engage in a broad and intelligent education.  Many myths pervade the gender history of the Regency period, but Margaret Bryan goes a long way to proving social and intellectual, if not legal, equality was out there for those with the wit to grasp it.

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3 thoughts on “Margaret Bryan, the Blackheath astronomer-

  1. specman1

    Nice write-up. I have been doing research on the history of women in astronomy since the mid-80s and I have a good pretty good history on Ms. Bryan I also collect antique astronomy books, especially by women authors, and have a first edition of her Compendius System of Astronomy.

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