She Caught the Light

Williamina Stevens Fleming: Astronomer




(Harper Collins Publishers)

(pub. 1.19.2021) 40 pages

Author: Kathryn Lasky

Illustrator: Julianna Swaney

Character: Williamina Stevens Fleming

Overview: "Ever since Williamina Fleming was little, she was curious, and her childhood fascination with light inspired her life’s work. Mina became an astronomer in a time when women were discouraged from even looking through telescopes. Yet Mina believed that the universe, with its billions of stars, was a riddle—and she wanted to help solve it.

Mina ultimately helped to create a map of the universe that paved the way for astronomers. Newbery Honor–winning Kathryn Lasky shares her incredible true story."

Tantalizing taste:

"But the most unfair thing was that Williamina and, later, other women astronomers were never allowed to look through a telescope for 'health reasons.' Women, the men said, were too fragile. In the unheated observatory dome, they might catch cold!

So what the women saw were the glass plates that recorded the spectra. The plates were removed from the telescope's spectrograph and like film were put in a chemical bath to develop. Gradually the lines would appear. It would remind Mina of the magic that transpired in her father's darkroom back in Dundee, Scotland."

And something more: Kathryn Lasky writes in the Author's Note: "When I discovered that in the late nineteenth century there was a team of women at the [Harvard College] observatory known as the 'human computers,' I was intrigued. Harvard had never been welcoming to women... These women ultimately laid the groundwork for twentieth-century astronomy... I just knew I had to tell their story, but I decided to focus on Williamina. To travel across the ocean from Scotland, then to be abandoned by her husband and raise a child on her own in a foreign country - what a poignant story!"