Belfast Telegraph

Blue plaque for Tyrone's 'forgotten' female astronomer Annie Russell Maunder

By Donna Deeney

A forgotten astronomer from Strabane is to be honoured with a blue plaque.

Annie Russell Maunder worked alongside her husband Walter at the end of the 19th Century, recording the dark spots that pepper the sun. Her pioneering work led to a lunar crater being named in her honour.

As the years passed she was largely forgotten, but now her ground-breaking work in astronomical exploration is to be celebrated.

The plaque, erected in conjunction with the Ulster History Circle, will be unveiled by the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Maoliosa McHugh, at Oysters on Patrick Street in the Tyrone town on Monday.

Annie Russell Maunder was born in Strabane where her father was a Presbyterian minister.

Despite the limitations at the time on education for women, she excelled in her work in solar observation, and her research, which she carried out alongside her husband, eventually secured her a place in the male-dominated Royal Astronomical Society.

Annie’s early education was at home and the local school, before attending the Ladies Collegiate School in Belfast.

In 1889 she qualified with an honours degree from Girton with a top place in mathematics, but as a female student she was not permitted to accept or receive her BA degree award.

Through her love for astrology she secured a post at Greenwich Observatory as a lady computer where she met her future husband, Walter Maunder.

Annie travelled the world to photograph solar eclipses at a time when women in science was unheard of. She was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in November 1916 — 24 years after she was first nominated for the position.

She died in 1947, long after her husband, but now her achievements will be celebrated.

Dr Myrtle Hill, the vice chair of the Ulster History Circle, said: “We welcome the opportunity to honour this Strabane woman’s major contributions to the Science of Astronomy and, although a Fellow of the Royal Society of Astronomy, she had been forgotten by science and had until recent years slipped from our history.”

Mayor McHugh said: “Her determination and skill earned her the respect of her male peers at a time when women struggled for recognition, particularly in the sphere of science and exploration.

“She was an ambassador for her town and an inspiration for local women both of her own generation and today.”

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