Mary Somerville

“I rose early and made such arrangement with regard to my children and family affairs that I had time to write afterwards not however, without many interruptions.”

Mary Somerville (26 December 1780 – 28 November 1872)

See women, juggling since the 18th century: no wonder the work life balance conversation gets dull.

Though Mary wasn’t your average 18th century woman. She wasn’t your average anybody. She was beyond bright with a beautiful, precise, clear and concise way of articulating, of writing, of thought.

She was a Scottish mathematician and scientist, not allowed to attend university, who translated some of the densest math’s into plain speak.  So clear and precise was her language, and translation’s that they are still readily referenced today.

Here’s a bit from Aussie science writer Margaret Wertheim, she can fill you in (click on the text for full article)

“Without formal training Somerville could not become a major force in physics, nonetheless she made an invaluable contribution to the field. Although England had once been the undisputed leader in physics, by the early nineteenth century it had dropped behind. During the eighteenth century the baton had passed to France, where the seminal scientific achievements of the age was the monumental book by Pierre Simon Laplace on the motions of the planets and stars. Laplace’s work on celestial mechanics had proved once and for all that the heavens were ruled by Newton’s laws, and that no divine intervention was necessary to keep the celestial orbs gliding along their paths. Yet in spite of its importance, this work had not been translated into English, thus British science lagged behind.

Somerville took it upon herself to rectify this omission, and spent years painstakingly translating Laplace’s legendarily difficult tome. To the basic text she added copious notes, explanations, and mathematical derivations to assist the reader. Once finished her book became a standard text for advanced students at Cambridge University. Yet while her book was taught there, as a woman she was not permitted in the university’s lecture halls, either as a student or a teacher. Like the scientific societies, the universities remained male-only clubs.”


I first heard of Mary earlier this year. I heard that quote and I raced for a pen, for a scrap of paper, to outrun memory and the sure to vanish quickly: quiet.

To scribble  down the quote.

Because, Mary and I, separated by hemispheres, by 200 years, by brains, by climate

By so very much.

We shared the painful truth of that quote.

“I rose early and made such arrangement with regard to my children and family affairs that I had time to write afterwards not however, without many interruptions.”

To read more about Mary, try this article and try the book

Seduced By Logic by Robyin Arianrhod


  1. Velle says:

    That is such a fantastic quote, especially for busy women who take the time to write! Thanks for that. Now to find a way to make it prominent in my work space…

  2. perkinsy says:

    Thanks for bringing my attention to the Margaret Wertheim article!

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