In the 1880s, the Harvard Observatory director was frustrated with his staff, and would say “My Scottish maid could do better!” So, he hired his Scottish maid. Williamina Fleming ran a team for decades, classified tens of thousands of stars, & discovered white dwarfs and the Horsehead Nebula.

Williamina Fleming

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming (May 15, 1857 – May 21, 1911) was a Scottish astronomer. During her career, she helped develop a common designation system for stars and cataloged thousands of stars and other astronomical phenomena. Among several career achievements that advanced astronomy, Fleming is noted for her discovery of the Horsehead Nebula in 1888.

Harvard College Observatory

After she and her child were abandoned by her husband James Fleming, Williamina worked as a maid in the home of Professor Edward Charles Pickering, who was director of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO). The story was told that Pickering frequently became frustrated with the performance of the men working at the HCO and, reportedly, would complain loudly: “My Scottish maid could do better!”

Pickering’s wife Lizzie recommended Williamina as having talents beyond custodial and maternal arts, and…

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