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Klumpke, Dorothea

france photographic mathematics woman

[ klump kuh] (1861–1942) US astronomer: the first woman to make astronomical observations from a balloon.

Dorothea Klumpke was born in San Francisco, where her father had made a fortune from real estate. Her mother believed that their two sons and five daughters should have the same educational opportunity and so, as they could find no suitable schools in post-gold-rush San Francisco, they moved to Europe, where Dorothea was to live for the next 50 years. She was educated in Germany, Switzerland and France. She gained her bachelor of science degree in mathematics in 1886 from the Sorbonne, and joined the staff of the Paris Observatory and worked on photographic star charts. In 1891 she became director of a bureau of the Paris Observatory for the measurement of the plates of the astro-photographic catalogue of stars down to 15th magnitude. She became the first woman to gain a doctorate in mathematics at the Sorbonne– for a thesis on Saturn’s rings (1893). In 1899, France, Germany and Russia made plans to launch balloons to observe the Leonid meteor shower of mid-November and Klumpke was chosen to ascend in La Centaure . She married Isaac Roberts in 1901; he was a Welsh businessman and amateur astronomer 30 years her senior; they settled in London. After his death in 1904 she returned to France with her husband’s large photographic plate collection, and published in 1928 a Celestial Atlas in tribute to him. She was made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur in 1934 for her long service to French astronomy. Together with her sister Anna she returned to the USA in the late 1930s.

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