Gregory Girolami, the William and Janet Lycan Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has uncovered previously undisclosed details about Margaret Bryan, an English schoolteacher who published numerous highly regarded astronomy and physics textbooks for young women in the 1800s. was inspired by his interest in the history of science, especially women scientists, and his wife, Vera Mainz, a chemist, shared his interest.

He discovered basic facts about her life, such as her birth and death dates, maiden name, and the names of her relatives, which had been lost to history for the past 200 years. He finally discovered their identities, Ann Marian and Maria, thanks to a bequest from a relative and a watercolor portrait of Margaret Bryan with her daughters.

He wrote, “Although Bryan’s published work and her efforts to educate young women have long been appreciated, now for the first time Bryan the person – along with her family – is beginning to emerge from the dark shadows in which she has been shrouded for more than two centuries. ,”

He said, “When I started my research, Margaret Bryan was just this number. She was known to write these textbooks, to have two daughters and to run a boarding school, but that was about it. I like this kind of scavenger hunt so I decided I would try to find out more about her life.

Basic information about her, such as her birth and death dates, maiden name, and names of relatives, seemed lost to history. Although the frontispiece of her first book, A Compendious System of Astronomy, a textbook for young girls, featured an engraved portrait of the author and her daughters, the names of the latter were not disclosed.

According to Girolami, although the prologue claimed that Bryan was a widow at the time of publication in 1797, her husband’s identity has never been revealed.

Girolami said, “Margaret Bryan’s astronomy book is highly technical and comprehensive, containing some of the latest discoveries and insights into astronomy as a science. Most women at that time did not receive a proper education. Those in wealthy families were well educated in literature, languages, music and domestic arts. However, it was not common for them to learn much about science.”

Margaret Bryan published Lectures on Natural Philosophy in 1806 and the physics textbook Astronomical and Geographical Class Book for Schools in 1815, as well as a revised edition of an educational board game, Science in Sport or The Pleasures of Astronomy. 1804.

Gregory Girolami found that several individuals with the surname of Nottidge were among the subscribers to Bryan’s books, many of whom were also listed as residents of the village of Bocking. He concluded that these people were probably relatives.

He discovered information about the Nottidges, a prominent family of wool merchants who operated mills in numerous places north east of London. He found that one of the relatives, Thomas Nottidge, had signed a will in 1794 that included Bryan and named Bryan’s mother.

Girolami discovered in the family tree of Thomas Nottidge’s wife, Ann Wall, that in 1768 her father, James Wall, left bequests to his three grandchildren, Oswald, James, and Margaret Haverkam.

Girolami learned that Haverkam was Bryan’s maiden name and that the baptismal records showed that she had been baptized in October 1759. He also found the name of her husband, William Bryan, and the births of Ann Marian and Maria in 1784 and 1786.

Margaret Bryan’s death is unknown, but a report of her death on 30 March 1836 in Fortess Terrace, Kentish Town, London may fit. The timing of that death matches the will of a lawyer named Thomas Barnard Pinkett, to whom Bryan fondly wrote the first editions of her two great books. Girolami also found Bryan’s marriage certificate, which revealed her husband’s name, William Bryan.

Pinkett’s will did not clarify the nature of his and Bryan’s relationship. However, it established that Bryan and her eldest daughter, Ann Marian, had already died when Pinkett signed the will on December 1, 1837, leaving “50 pounds sterling” to the surviving daughter, Maria.

Magazine reference:

  1. Gregory S. Girolami, Margaret Bryan: Newly Discovered Biographical Information on the Author of A Compendious System of Astronomy (1797), Notes and Reports: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science (2023). DOI: 10.1098/rsnr.2022.0052