Huggins' personal and professional life changed radically in the mid-1870s. Sometime in the early 1870s, probably in the home of mutual friends in London, he met Margaret Murray (figure 6.6). She had an interest in astronomy and an unusual — and no doubt latent—aptitude for laboratory work. He married her in
1875, when he was 51 and she was about 27. She became his devoted companion both inside and outside the observatory.
Although both she and Huggins referred to her as his assistant, Margaret was much more than a passive trainee. Recent research by historian of science Barbara Becker, for her doctoral dissertation, has shown that Margaret not only assisted Huggins, but played a key role in getting him to use photography. She had input on the research agenda at Upper Tulse Hill, optimized the instrumentation, and occasionally challenged her husband on the interpretation of data.
Margaret was born in 1828 near Dublin. Her father, a solicitor, and her mother were both of Scottish ancestry, but she grew up with her older and younger siblings in what is now the town of Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.36
Her mother died in 1857. According to some sources, she subsequently spent some time with her wealthy paternal grandfather, and was sent for a while to a private girl's school in the south of England. She liked to draw, and shared with her future husband an interest in music as well as astronomy.
After Margaret's death in 1915, her friends offered different accounts of how she came to be interested in astronomy and photography. Some thought her grandfather had acquainted her with the telescope, and others said that she had, in her teens, experimented with prisms after reading a popular article on spectroscopy, and had seen Fraunhofer's lines in the solar spectrum for herself. One friend added that Margaret had taught herself photography as a child or adolescent. The claim is not far-fetched; in the years following the Great Exhibition, photography grew rapidly in popularity, especially among the artistically inclined. No social conventions barred women from experimenting with photography as an amusement or even from working as professional photographers' assistants.
After her marriage to Huggins, Margaret picked up scientific research with alacrity. Within a few months of moving to Upper Tulse Hill, she began experimenting with photography. She took over the task of maintaining the laboratory notebooks in March 1876. It is not clear whether the remarks she made during the first months reflect her own thoughts or her husband's, but by December 1876, her use of ''I'' and ''we'' in her notes, and later her use of ''W'' to denote her husband William's pronouncements, leave no doubt that she conducted independent work, and that she made photographic techniques her special domain.
For example, Margaret wrote in June 1876: ''I had a new and much smaller camera made to use in connection with the above described apparatus. . . . I was occupied upon all favourable days in testing and adjusting this photographic apparatus upon the solar spectrum: at the same time testing different photographic methods with a view to finding, relatively to different parts of the spectrum the most sensitive, and relatively to the whole spectrum the quickest method for star spectra.'' 7 Many years later, in 1893, she was confident enough to record her disagreement with Huggins on a matter of procedure: ''I was . . . unable to be in the Observatory but W insisted on working alone. Again tried Messier 15, giving exposure from 6.10 to
9 p.m____Developed next day and delighted to find a spectrum good enough to tell us something. It is not however as strong as I should have liked & I regret much that W would not take my counsel & have left the plate in so that it might have had continued exposure the next fine night.''38 These samples of her laboratory notes show that Margaret was much more than an assistant, even in the early days of her marriage.
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