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STEM GLAM GALLERY: Caroline Herschel

Born in Hanover, Germany in 1750, Caroline Herschel was the eighth child of the Herschel family. When she was ten years old, she was struck with the typhus disease, which stunted her growth and left her scarred. She never grew taller than 4 ft 3 inches and it was assumed she would never marry. Throughout her childhood and up until she moved away from her mother, she was made to do household chores for the family under her mother’s supervision. Although her father supported and encouraged all his children to educate themselves well, Caroline Herschel was so overwhelmed by chores that she never got the same chance for education as her brothers did.

Things took a better turn when she turned 22. Her brother, William Herschel, brought her away from the family out of sympathy when he moved to England, where he was an organist and conductor. Although she was mainly the housekeeper for her brother, she learned many new skills from her talented brother. William Herschel trained her to become a singer and gave her opportunities to perform in his concerts. In time, Caroline Herschel built a reputation for herself as a singer and received offers to perform in other cities.

Meanwhile, William Herschel had always been interested in astronomy and often studied the skies as a hobby. Caroline Herschel was not interested in astronomy yet, but she often helped her brother grind and polish the mirrors for his telescopes. She also learned basic mathematics and science from her brother. In 1781, when he was appointed court astronomer by King George III for his discovery of Uranus, William Herschel’s hobby turned into a full-time career. Despite her initial reluctance to leave the musical field, Caroline Herschel decided to support her brother in his career and became her brother’s apprentice at age 32.