First in Their Field: Caroline Herschel

Happy 266th Birthday, Caroline Herschel! A barrier-breaking scientist of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Caroline Herschel was born March 16, 1750 in Hanover Germany. In 1772 she traveled to England to live with her older brother William.


Caroline got her start in astronomy by assisting her brother. She polished her brother’s telescope learned how to keep precise astronomical records and keep her brother’s findings organized. After William discovered Uranus, King George III appointed him the position of royal astronomer and Caroline became his official assistant. Caroline was the first woman to be paid for her contributions to science, with a stipend of 50 pounds a year and was also the first woman in England in a government position.


Caroline was more then just her brother’s assistant but an accomplished scientist and astronomer in her own right. In 1783 she discovered the Andromeda and Cetus nebula and by the end of the year she had discovered 14 more nebula. On August 1, 1786, She was the first woman to discover a comet. Between the years 1789 and 1797 she had discovered another seven comets. Later in her life she arranged two-and-a-half thousand nebulae into zones of similar polar distances so that her nephew, John Herschel could re-examine them systematically.

180px-Herschel_Caroline_1829.jpgIn 1828, at the age of 75, Herschel became the first women to be awarded a gold medal by the Royal Astronomical Society for her monumental works in science and ten years later, she was named the first women honorary member of the society.


Caroline Herschel died January 9, 1848 at the age of 97. Her legacy continues to inspire young girls to look at the stars and understand our place in the vast universe. The inscription on he tombstone reads “The eyes of her who is glorified here below turned to the starry heavens”.

Melissa Jones, Social Media Coordinator
Want to get to know more women who were first in their field? Check out The Women’s Museum of California’s online exhibit



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