- Virginia Johnson
Caroline Herschel had a very hard life early on. Born into a family of royal musicians in what is now Germany, two childhood illnesses left her face pockmarked and her body stunted. Her mother treated her very much as a servant while worrying that no man would ever want to marry her. In the 1700s, this was a real concern, for it was hard for women to make enough money to survive on their own. Caroline's life was pretty miserable as she was expected to do exhausting housework, including knitting stockings for everyone, over and over again.
Fortunately, Caroline’s older brother William wanted to help her. He had moved to England where he was working as a choral conductor and piano teacher. William had the idea that Caroline could learn to sing and be paid for it, and that is exactly what she did. But that is not where her story ends.
William was fascinated by the stars above—and Caroline was, too! He branched out from music to making his own instruments to study the stars, and his sister helped him. Eventually, he taught her mathematics and astronomy, and she helped him even more. In time, she became more than a helper. Caroline learned to work independently and made her own discoveries. Like her brother, Caroline was paid to be an astronomer by the King of England himself. Indeed, she is considered by many to be the first professional woman scientist.
Her fame spread so far that, when she returned to her home country after William died, she was consulted by scientists for the rest of her life. Caroline was particularly famous for her discoveries of comets and became known as the Hunter of Comets.
Emily Arnold McCully’s Caroline’s Comets: A True Story is a beautifully illustrated picture book biography that brings this intrepid woman’s inspiring story to life. It includes extra notes about her life, a bibliography of print and online sources, a glossary, and a timeline.