Agnes Mary Clerke

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Agnes Mary Clerke
Clerke Agnes Mary.jpg
Born (1842-02-10)10 February 1842
Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland
Died 20 January 1907(1907-01-20) (aged 64)

Agnes Mary Clerke (10 February 1842 – 20 January 1907) was an astronomer and writer, mainly in the field of astronomy. She was born in Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland, and died in London.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]


Agnes Clerke was the daughter of John William Clerke (ca. 1814–1890) and his wife Catherine Mary Deasy (b. ca. 1819). Her father was a judge's registrar.[8][9] She had two siblings; her older sister, Ellen Mary, was born in 1840, and her younger brother, Aubrey St. John, was born in 1843.[10] All of the Clerke children were entirely home schooled.[10]

Life and work[edit]

She was interested in astronomy from an early age, and had begun to write about it before the age of 15. In 1861 her family moved to Dublin, and in 1863 to Queenstown. Several years later she went to Italy where she stayed until 1877, chiefly at Florence, studying at the public library and preparing for literary work. In 1877 she settled in London.

Her first important article, Copernicus in Italy, was published in the Edinburgh Review in October 1877. She achieved a worldwide reputation in 1885, on the appearance of her exhaustive treatise, A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century. Clerke was not a practical astronomer, instead collating, interpreting and summarising the results of astronomical research. In 1888 she spent three months at the Cape Observatory as the guest of the director, Sir David Gill, and his wife, and there became sufficiently familiar with spectroscopic work to be able to write about this newer branch of the science with increased clearness and confidence.

In 1892 she was awarded the Actonian Prize of 100 guineas by the Royal Institution. As a member of the British Astronomical Association she attended its meetings regularly, as well as those of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1903, with Lady Huggins, she was elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, a rank previously held only by two other women, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville.

Her sister, Ellen Mary Clerke (1840–1906), also wrote about astronomy.

The lunar crater Clerke is named after her.[11]

In 2002, the retired astronomy lecturer Mary Brück wrote a book on her, Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics.[12]

Selected writings[edit]

  • A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh, 1885 (4th rev. ed. London, 1902)
  • The System of the Stars. London, 1890 (2nd ed. London, 1905)
  • The Herschels and Modern Astronomy. London, 1895
  • The Concise Knowledge Astronomy (co-authored with John Ellard Gore and Alfred Fowler. London, 1898
  • Problems in Astrophysics. London, 1903
  • Modern Cosmogonies. London, 1905
  • Familiar Studies in Homer. London, 1892

She also wrote 55 articles for the Edinburgh Review, mainly on subjects connected with astrophysics, and several articles for the Dictionary of National Biography, the Encyclopædia Britannica and the Catholic Encyclopedia, and several other periodicals.


  1. ^ For details of the life and work of Agnes Clerk, see Weitzenhoffer, Kenneth (1985). "The Prolific Pen of Agnes Clerke". Sky and Telescope (9): 211–212. Bibcode:1985S&T....70..211W. 
  2. ^ Huggins, Margaret L. (1907). "Agnes Mary Clerke". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (London: Royal Astronomical Society) 67 (4): 230–231. Bibcode:1907MNRAS..67..230.. doi:10.1093/mnras/67.4.230. 
  3. ^ "Obituary–Agnes Mary Clerke". The Observatory 30: 107–108. 1907. Bibcode:1907Obs....30..107. 
  4. ^ Lynn, William T. (1907). "Miss Agnes Mary Clerke". Journal of the British Astronomical Association (London: British Astronomical Association) 17 (4): 188–189. Bibcode:1907JBAA...17..188. 
  5. ^ Huggins, Margaret L. (1907). "Agnes Mary Clerke". Astrophysical Journal 25 (3): 226–230. Bibcode:1907ApJ....25..226H. doi:10.1086/141436. 
  6. ^ Dent, Elsie A. (1907). "Agnes Mary Clerke". Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) 1 (2): 81–84. Bibcode:1907JRASC...1...81D. 
  7. ^ See, Thomas J. J. (1907). "Some Recollections of Miss Agnes M. Clerke". Popular Astronomy 15 (6): 323–326. Bibcode:1907PA.....15..323S. 
  8. ^ "Miss Agnes Mary Clerke (transcription)" (38236). London: The Times. 22 January 1907. p. 12; col D. Retrieved 6 December 2008. 
  9. ^ England 1871 census Class: RG10; Piece: 870; Folio: 118; Page: 24; GSU roll: 827769.
  10. ^ a b Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (eds.). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science A-K 1. Routledge: New York and London. pp. 269–271. ISBN 0-415-92039-6. 
  11. ^ Haines, Catharine (2001). International women in science: a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 67. ISBN 1-57607-090-5. 
  12. ^ Brück, Mary T. (2002). Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521808448. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]