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Until the last century, few women earned a living in astronomy. The first one to get paid for her work, in fact, didn’t receive a regular salary until 1740. And she received that only because her brother had passed away.
Christine Kirch was born in Germany around 1696 — 325 years ago. She was a member of an entire family of astronomers. Her father was the first astronomer at the Berlin Observatory. And her mother helped him make observations and create calendars — an important line of work for observatories at the time.
Christine joined the family enterprise when she was still a child, helping keep time for observations. When her father died, her brother took his post, and Christine and her mother and sister aided him. Christine, in fact, became a skilled calendar maker, and received occasional payments from the Berlin Academy of Science.
When the brother died, Christine took over his job as calendar maker, and received her first regular salary. She was especially responsible for making calendars for Silesia, a province that Prussia had just conquered. The academy had a monopoly on calendar making, so it earned a tidy income from Kirch’s work.
Kirch continued to draw a salary even after she retired at age 77. She trained her successor, Johann Bode, who would become one of the most famous astronomers in the world. Kirch died in 1782 — after 42 years as the world’s first paid female astronomer.
Script by Damond Benningfield