Born in Hanover to a bandsman in the Prussian army, Caroline Herschel, along with her five siblings, was encouraged by her father to study mathematics. Caroline’s mother, however, felt Caroline was best suited to looking after the house, and when a bout of typhus stunted Caroline’s growth, her mother became even more adamant.
Her father, however, gave her lessons behind her mother’s back, and her older brother, William, took her to live with him when he moved to England. While she was ostensibly his housekeeper, he gave her singing lessons, and she soon became the most well-known soprano in Bath, despite her four-foot, three-inch height.
William eventually quit his job as a chorus director to pursue his hobby of astronomy and telescope-making. Before long, Caroline was grinding lenses for telescopes and not long after that became her brother’s apprentice.
In time, Caroline made a name for herself by discovering eight comets, and after William’s death, she catalogued all the discoveries they had made, including 2,500 nebulae. One of the well-known stories told about Caroline Herschel is that she never learned the multiplication tables but carried a chart of them around with her at all times.
In June 1847, newspapers marked her 97th birthday by printing: “Miss Caroline Herschel, sister, and for a long time assistant to the illustrious astronomer, celebrated her 97th birthday at Hanover on the 16th ult. She still, sometimes, passes a whole night in her observatory.
She died shortly thereafter, having received many awards in her long life, including the Gold Medal of Science from the King of Prussia.