The Royal Astronomical Society is an international non-profit organisation that promotes astronomy and geophysics. It was formed in 1820 and has an interesting, and sometimes paradoxical history when it comes to women.
It gave Caroline Herschel a Gold Medal, its greatest honour, in 1828, yet another woman didn’t win until 1996, and only four other women (out of over two hundred people) have ever won this prize.
The Royal Astronomical Society received its Royal Charter in 1831, two years after Herschel was honoured. Yet the pronoun ‘he’ was used, and on this basis, women were not able to become Fellows – what we call members - until 1916, during World War One.
On top of this, only three out of over 100 of our presidents have been women - we have had almost ten times as many presidents with John or William in their names than female presidents. And there have been six men since the latest female President, Kathryn Whaler.
Not surprisingly given all this, only about 18% of our current fellows are female – we asked about sex not gender - and we have very little intersectional data.
This is an appalling situation, which is reflective of what women face in the wider world of STEM – that is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There’s no evidence to show that women, or other underrepresented people, are not as capable or interested is astronomy or geophysics as anyone else. We have been discriminated against throughout history and this has led us to where we are now.
One way to rectify this is to discuss it, and so we’ll now be regularly uploading new information here.
There are so many examples of amazing, courageous women who underwent extraordinary feats in order to advance our knowledge of the universe, and we would like these stories to be told.
If you want to be a part of history and are interested in becoming a Fellow, you just need to be over the age of 18 to apply. It doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur scientist, an undergraduate student, or a professional or retired scientist. We need you!