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Leading Women of Scotland

Leading-Women-of-Scotland-2016

Elizabeth Blackwell 1700

Elizabeth Blackwell 1700 - 1758 Botanist IIlustrator of medicinal plants and published medical author. Born in Aberdeen, Elizabeth and her husband, Alexander, moved to London where he set up a printing business. This failed, and Alexander was imprisoned as a debtor. To support her family and raise money to free him, Elizabeth visited the Chelsea Physic Garden and sketched plant specimens she found there. From 1737-1739, Elizabeth produced a series of 500 beautiful illustrations of plants, together with descriptions of their medicinal properties. Encouraged by prominent physicians and apothecaries, she published the work in instalments as 'A curious herbal …', which became a huge success. Her herbal masterpiece was much praised at the time for its attention to detail, and even today, the botanical accuracy of her depictions is still admired. With her husband's help, she accompanied the illustrations with descriptions of each plant’s appearance and how it could be used as a medicinal remedy. In preparation for publication, she engraved the copper plates herself. The completed volumes sold for about £5 and helped save her family from ruin. 6

Mary Fairfax Somerville 1780 - 1872 Polymath Played a pivotal role in the discovery of the planet Neptune. Mary was a science writer and polymath, from a time when women’s participation in science was discouraged. She studied mathematics and astronomy. She played a pivotal role in the discovery of the planet Neptune thanks to her writing about the hypothetical planet perturbing the orbit of Uranus. She was passionate about astronomy and believed it to be the most extensive example of the connection of the physical sciences in that it combined the sciences of number and quantity, of rest and motion. “In [astronomy] we perceive the operation of a force which is mixed up with everything that exists in the heavens or on earth; which pervades every atom, rules the motions of animate and inanimate beings, and is as sensible in the descent of a rain-drop as in the falls of Niagara; in the weight of the air, as in the periods of the moon.” Mary is also linked to the advancement of women in academia, having given her name to an Oxford college that initially only admitted women: Somerville College, founded in 1879. 7

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