Mary Fairfax was the daughter of a naval officer and born in Jedburgh. As was customary for young ladies, she received very little formal education. Yet she taught herself algebra in secret and, as a young wife and mother, she continued to study mathematics. Widowhood at twenty-seven gave her the independence to develop her intellectual interests and her second husband, William Somerville, proved more supportive than her first. Somerville’s particular contribution to nineteenth-century science lay in her powers of analysis and explication rather than original research. She translated Laplace’s ‘The Mechanism of the Heavens’ into English and wrote a bestselling book on physics. After her death, Somerville College in Oxford was named in her honour.