February ’23 Monthly Meeting – Pioneering Women of the British Astronomical Association

A talk by Mike Frost, Current Director of the BAA’s Historical Section, at CAWAS’s meeting of 10th February 2023.

Picture: Margaret Lindsay Huggins

“I’m not using the microphone,’ Mike announced at the beginning of his talk. ‘I like to wave my arms about!’ Thus preparing us for an entertaining, enthralling and enthusiastic presentation.

“Pioneering Women of the BAA” may not, at first glance, been the most enticing of titles for a mostly male audience but regular attenders know a talk by Mike would be worth turning up for, and so it was.

He outlined the differences in their attitude to women between the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) founded in1820, and the BAA, founded in 1890. The RAS, very much stuck in the old Victorian mindset that the roles of women were to run their households and be dutiful wives and mothers, was reluctant to have any women involved with it but by 1890, women could at least attend their meetings and have research published in their periodicals whereas the BAA had women involved from the very start.

And what women they were!

Observers and scientists; authors and adventurers:

Mary Acworth Evershed, (1867 – 1949)the BAA’s first Director of the Historical Section. She wrote the “Easy Guide to the Southern Skies” when living in Australia and edited the BAA’s “Who’s Who in the Moon.”;

Margaret, Lady, Huggins, (1848 – 1915), photographer and spectrographer, co-authored an Atlas of Spectrography with her husband William Huggins;

And the flamboyantly named Fiametta Wilson, (1864 – 1920), who ran a mandolin orchestra before becoming a prolific observer of comets and aurorae and publisher of articles and the Director of the BAA’s Meteor Section along with another lady astronomer, Grace Cook.

This resume is to name but a few of the women Mike mentioned and doesn’t include the intrepid balloonist, the solar eclipse follower, the electrical engineer and the world travellers.

Mike, an avid solar eclipse follower, held the attention of his audience to the last word. He finished off his talk by describing his ideal party guests’ list. It, obviously, included some of the women he mentioned in his talk, plus a fellow (former rival?) solar eclipse follower, the late Sir Patrick Moore. (Mike 13, Sir Patrick 11).

If you missed this talk and see it advertised in the future, don’t miss it next time.

Irene Rogers.

22nd February 2023.

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