Mary Acworth Evershed

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Mary Acworth Evershed
Mary Acworth Orr

(1867-01-01)1 January 1867
Plymouth Hoe, Devon, England
Died25 October 1949(1949-10-25) (aged 82)
Ewhurst, Surrey, England
Other namesM.A. Orr
Known forAstronomy and scholarship of Dante
Spouse(s)John Evershed[1]

Mary Acworth Evershed (née Orr; 1 January 1867 Plymouth Hoe, Devon – 25 October 1949, Ewhurst, Surrey) was a British astronomer and scholar. Her work on Dante Alighieri was written under the pen name M.A. Orr. Although her second name is increasingly appearing as Ackworth, this is totally incorrect, she always gave it as Acworth, and it appeared as such in both her obituaries, of which the one appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society was written by her nephew A. David Thackeray, who presumably would have known. The first appearance of this incorrect version appears to have occurred in an article written by Mary Brück.

Early life[edit]

Mary Acworth Orr was born to Lucy Acworth and Andrew Orr on 1 January 1867.[2] Her father was an officer in the Royal Artillery. Mary grew up in Wimborne and South Stoke in Somerset.[2]

When she was 20, Orr travelled abroad with her sisters, and when in Florence (1888–1890) began a study of the works of Dante which led to her lifelong interest in astronomical references in Dante's poems.[3]

Astronomical career[edit]

In 1890 Orr moved with her family to Australia. She found there was no good guide to the southern stars, so prepared An Easy Guide to the Southern Stars, with the encouragement of John Tebbutt, the leading astronomer in Australia at the time.

In 1895, she moved back to England and joined the British Astronomical Association, which at the time enjoyed membership from many intellectual women barred from the (then) all-male Royal Astronomical Society. During this time she became friends with Agnes Clerke and Annie Scott Dill Maunder, both notable for their contributions to historical astronomy.[citation needed]

Orr met British fellow astronomer John Evershed when they both participated in an expedition to view a total solar eclipse in Norway in 1896. The two married in 1906. Up to this time Evershed had worked as an industrial chemist, with solar physics as a hobby, but in 1906 was offered a post as assistant astronomer at Kodaikanal Observatory in India. Mary and John moved to Kodaikanal (visiting notable astronomical locations in the United States on the way) to allow him to take up the post in 1907.[2][4] While in India, Mary collected plants from the region, which were ultimately deposited in the British Museum herbarium.[5]

Throughout her life, Evershed travelled to numerous solar eclipses, including Norway in 1896, Algiers in 1900, Western Australia in 1922, Yorkshire in 1927, and Greece/Aegean Sea in 1936. She directed the Historical Section of the British Astronomical Association from 1930 to 1944.[2]

Dante scholarship[edit]

Evershed was also greatly interested in poetry, and while she loved Dante's work, she was worried about his cosmography. Her 1914 book Dante and the Early Astronomers helped clarify Dante's science, as accurate as it could be given existing knowledge.[4]


  • Two Letters Addressed to the Bishop of Ripon, on Secularism, the Holy Scriptures, and the Geographical Position of the Garden of Eden (1876)
  • Easy Guide to Southern Stars (1896)
  • Southern Stars: A Guide to the Constellations Visible in the Southern Hemisphere, preface by John Tebbutt, with a miniature star atlas (London, 1896)
  • Monthly Notices, v.73, p. 422 (1913) – sunspots.
  • Dante and the Early Astronomers (1914)
  • Mem. Kod. Obsc., V.1, Pt.2 (1917) (as Mr. and Mrs. Evershed)
  • Who's Who in the Moon (1938; an index to named lunar craters)

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ Stratton, F. J. M. (1957). "John Evershed 1864–1956". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 3: 40–51. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1957.0004. JSTOR 769351.
  2. ^ a b c d A.D. Thackeray (1950). "Obituary Notices: Evershed, Mary Acworth". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 110 (2): 128–129. Bibcode:1950MNRAS.110..128.. doi:10.1093/mnras/110.2.128.
  3. ^ Brück, Mary (2009). "Mountain Paradise". Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy. Springer. pp. 235–247. ISBN 978-90-481-2473-2.
  4. ^ a b Tracy Daugherty, "Passion for Poetry and Stars Drove 'Dante's Astronomer'", Oregon State University, Spring 2009.
  5. ^ "Mary Acworth Evershed (1867–1949)", JStor Plant Science. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  6. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. 2 (Sixth ed.). Springer. p. 824. ISBN 9783642297175. Retrieved 2 June 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mary T. Brück, "Mary Ackworth Evershed née Orr (1867–1949), solar physicist and Dante scholar", Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage (ISSN 1440-2807), Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 45–59 (1998).
  • Mary T. Brück, "Mary Ackworth Orr Evershed", The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers, v.5, pp. 351–352.
  • Tracy Daugherty, "Passion for Poetry and Stars Drove 'Dante's Astronomer'", Oregon State University, Spring 2009.
  • Tracy Daugherty, "Dante and the Early Astronomer", Yale University Press, 2019