Made in Dundee
Williamina Fleming Plaque 2
Pickering was director of the Harvard College Observatory. His department was embarked upon an ambitious project to catalogue the stars. At night professional astrologers would photograph the stars through a prism. By day human computers would record any variations between the stars. The story goes that one day Pickering grew frustrated at the work of one of the male computers and told him it was easy work 'My Scotch maid could do it.'
Maybe Pickering decided to take his own advice. At any rate by 1881 Williamina was a full-time employee at the observatory. Williamina showed a natural ability for the job – she soon came up with a new system for cataloguing the stars. In later years this system was refined by one of the other women she recruited to work as a computer. It is still the system that astronomers use to this day. In 30 years as an astronomer Fleming catalogued over 10,000 stars and had discovered 310 variable stars, 10 novae and 52 nebulae. She received a medal from Astronomical Society of Mexico for her discovery of new stars and was the fifth women to be made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Her most celebrated achievements are the discovery of the Horsehead Nebula and the discovery of white dwarves.