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For ‘the present and future happiness of my dear Pupils’:The Astronomical and Educational Legacy of Margaret Bryan
Jane Austen wrote in her novel Emma that boarding schools were ‘where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies’. Austen's contemporary, astronomer and natural philosopher Margaret Bryan, would have vehemently disagreed with such a dismissive assessment of her own schools. Bryan, whose image (along with her two daughters) appears on the frontispiece of her work A Compendious System of Astronomy (1797), taught astronomy and natural philosophy to girls at her school in Blackheath, London from 1795 to 1806, and opened another school in central London in 1815. Her schools and books gave a general grounding in astronomy and physics to young women interested in the sciences. This paper assesses the astronomical and educational tradition passed down by Bryan. Despite the difficulties faced by British women pursuing astronomical education and employment throughout the nineteenth century, the increasing number of women attending astronomy classes, and their growing participation in lectures, organizations, and expeditions, are a testament to Bryan's legacy.