Antonia Ferrin

Biography of Antonia Ferrín Moreiras, a young Galician woman who became the first Spanish astronomer.

In 1963, Antonia Ferrín became the first Spanish woman to defend a thesis on astronomy.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

Childhood and family of Antonia Ferrín

Antonia Ferrín Moreiras was born in Orense on May 13, 1914.

She was the third of four sisters in a cultured family, but with few economic resources.

Orense
View of the Roman bridge of Orense, over the river Miño. Credit: Wikipedia

Her father, a mathematics teacher, wanted his four daughters: Celsa, María, Antonia and Pastora, to go to higher education.

This was an unusual expectation for women in those years.

However, the poor financial situation of the family did not facilitate things in that sense.

Despite everything, their parents made it possible for the four sisters to agree to study at the university.

Studies of Antonia Ferrín in Santiago de Compostela

When Antonia Ferrín was six years old, the father decided to move with her family, from Orense to Santiago de Compostela.

In this way, his four daughters were already able to live very close to the University of Santiago.

Antonia Ferrín started going to school when she was seven years old. Two years later, in 1923, at just nine years old, she was ready to enter the Institute.

She studied the Baccalaureate of Sciences at the “General and Technical Institute of Santiago de Compostela“.

Immediately afterwards, she studied the University Baccalaureate at the “Instituto Nacional de Secundaria”. There were only twelve other girls in the Institute.

Antonia Ferrín’s first higher studies

Antonia’s father worked as a professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy. However, his income was not enough to pay his daughters a college degree.

The modest financial situation of the head of the family, together with Antonia’s brilliant academic record, facilitated the award of a series of scholarships.

Thanks to these state aid, Antonia had access to free education.

At the age of 16, Antonia began higher studies in Chemistry at the “Faculty of Sciences of the University of Santiago de Compostela.”

During all the years of primary and secondary school, Antonia Ferrín had shown signs of her intelligence and her ability to study.

But it was at the University where she showed that her potential was far above normal.

From that moment she began a spectacular and tireless academic, teaching and research career.

Antonia Ferrín graduated in Chemistry in 1935, with a brilliant record. At the same time, she obtained the title of National Teacher.

Her professional activities from 1935 to 1939

Before finishing her degree, in 1934, Antonia Ferrín had started working, unpaid.

She did it as an assistant professor in practices, of the subjects of Physics and Mathematics of the Faculty of Sciences.

At the same time, she served as an interim assistant in the Department of Sciences of the “Arcebispo Xelmirez Institute“.

These two jobs were carried out in Santiago de Compostela until 1936.

In those years, she also studied Pharmacy.

Furthermore, as soon as the University of Santiago de Compostela began offering courses in “Exact Sciences” (“Mathematics”), Antonia did not hesitate to enroll. Mathematics was what attracted her the most.

All these activities at the same time: work and various courses.

In 1937, she became a teacher of Mathematics in the school for orphan girls, “Nuestra Señora de los Remedios”. This institution had been founded in 1547, almost 400 years ago.

Antonia Ferrín during the civil war in Spain

Unfortunately, during the civil war in Spain, someone made an anonymous complaint, accusing her of subversive political ideology.

They opened a “purification file” and took her away from teaching at the University.

This unjust sentence, disqualified her for the performance of managerial and trust positions.

Antonia Ferrín from 1940 to 1949

In 1940, she got her case reviewed. Her sentence was canceled and she was able to teach again.

Immediately, she returned to teach at the Faculty of Sciences, but not at the “Instituto Arcebispo Xelmirez“.

During the academic year 1939-1940, she completed the subjects she needed to complete Pharmacy. In 1940, she obtained a Bachelor of Pharmacy.

At this time, she met Professor Enrique Vidal Abascal, for whom she worked as an assistant professor and as an adjunct professor at USC.

Antonia Ferrín’s beginnings in astronomy

Professor Vidal introduced her to Ramón María Aller, founder and director of the USC Astronomical Observatory.

Professor Aller changed Antonia Ferrín’s life by introducing her to the world of astronomy.

Ramón María Aller made it possible for Antonia to become the first Galician astronomer.

It all started with some first collaborations, which later became a work of more than twenty years together.

Antonia Ferrin
The astronomer Ramón María Aller with Antonia Ferrín. Credit: web lavozdegalicia.es

With previous studies in Chemistry and Pharmacy, Antonia Ferrín was able to find well-paid jobs.

But she was captivated, trapped by Astronomy. In this field, it was where Antonia decided to develop most of her professional career.

Ramón María Aller was a priest, mathematician and astronomer. He mastered 10 languages.

Ramón María Aller
Ramón María Aller was the introducer of astronomy in Galicia. Credit: web laregion.es

Antonia Ferrín and astronomy from 1950

At the Observatory, Antonia Ferrín learned the use of instruments such as the step telescope or the twelve-centimeter refractor telescope.

With this simple instrument, she made painstaking and patient observations.

She especially investigated occultations of stars by the Moon, passages of stars by two verticals and micrometric measurements of double stars.

The results of these investigations were published in “Urania”, the Spanish astronomy magazine.

From this time, Ferrín remembered the intense cold that she had suffered on Compostela nights, while making observations under the dome of the observatory.

Surely she consoled herself a bit, remembering Carolina Herschel who had spent long cold English nights watching and scoring, watching and scoring, watching and scoring.

She would also imagine how cold Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Nicolaus Copernicus had been when they scanned the night skies of the respective Nordic countries with their primitive telescopes.

Some years later, in the Atacama Desert, another notable woman named María Teresa Ruiz also spent entire nights scanning the skies.

Continuing with her studies, Antonia Ferrín studied as a free student the last three years of her Mathematics career at the Central University of Madrid.

In 1950, Antonia obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from said Central University.

This is how, at age 36, Antonia Ferrín had a degree in chemistry, a degree in pharmacy and a degree in mathematics.

Three bachelor’s degrees earned while still working for a living.

In 1950, she obtained a grant from the “Higher Council for Scientific Research” to carry out research at the Astronomical Observatory of Santiago de Compostela.

Two years later, this fellowship turned into a research assistant contract.

In 1953, Antonia Ferrín approved the competitive examinations for professor of Mathematics in the “Normal School of Magisterio” of Santander.

Two years later, in 1955, she began working at the “Isabel la Católica” school for girls in Santiago de Compostela.

At that time, she supported Professor Vidal Abascal to promote the creation of the Bachelor of Mathematics at the USC Faculty of Sciences.

They succeeded in 1957. Antonia Ferrín was the first female professor at this Faculty.

During that time, she continued her research under the direction of Ramón María Aller.

The astronomy thesis defended by Antonia Ferrín

Probably her greatest reward was on September 14, 1963, when she defended the thesis she had done under the direction of Professor Aller.

At that time, Ramón María Aller was more than eighty years old.

It was the first astronomy thesis that was read at the USC Faculty of Mathematics.

In addition, it was the first thesis that dealt with astronomy and that was defended by a woman in Spain.
Antonia Ferrín Moreiras was the first female professor at this Faculty.

Antonia Ferrín, notable astronomer and teacher

Since then and until her retirement, she was combining astronomy work with teaching.

She was a very good teacher, combining her extensive knowledge with a genuine interest in her students.

  • She was a tenured professor of mathematics at the “Santa María” teaching school in Madrid.
  • She taught astronomy and celestial mechanics and held managerial positions.
  • She worked as a professor of Mathematics at the Faculty of Medicine for two years.
  • She taught astronomy and celestial mechanics classes.
  • She worked as an adjunct professor of Statistics for Professor Sixto Ríos at the University of Madrid.
  • She was an adjunct professor of Astronomy at the Faculty of Mathematics at USC.
  • She also worked as a teacher at the Complutense University.

She participated in the first international Mathematics meetings that took place in Spain.

Difficulties she had to overcome as a woman

Despite her great professional career, being a woman hurt her on some occasions.

Ramón María Oller fell ill on December 15, 1962. At that time he went to live with his sisters at their house in Lalín (today the municipal museum). When he recovered, he continued directing the thesis of Antonia Ferrín Moreiras that she read in September 1963. (information from the private agendas of Mr. Ramón, and cited by Ms. Cecilia Doporto)

Later, when Ramón María Aller fell ill in 1964, Dr. Ferrín ran for the opposition to replace him.
Incredibly, she was excluded from the contest without any justification.
After she filed a complaint, she was admitted as an applicant, but not as a professor.
In a truly shameful way, the chair was declared deserted and the Observatory decayed for years.

Currently, the USC Observatory is called “Ramón María Aller Astronomical Observatory“.

Observatory
Ramón María Aller Astronomical Observatory, on the USC Campus. Credit: Wikipedia

Antonia Ferrín intelligent, supportive and hard-working

The most important contribution that Antonia Ferrín made to her fellow men was a tireless spirit of study and work throughout her life.

She studied, taught, researched, worked tirelessly. All this in a society and at a time where women had very difficult activities outside the home.

With a more than fruitful life behind her, Antonia Ferrín retired in 1984, at the age of 70.

On May 24, 2008, she was named godmother of the 50th anniversary of the USC School of Mathematics.

Antonia Ferrin
Antonia Ferrín Moreiras already retired from teaching and research. Credit: web elpais.com

A few months later, on August 6, 2009, Antonia Ferrín Moreiras died in Santiago de Compostela, at the age of 95.

Without a doubt she is a remarkable woman, extraordinarily remarkable. A pride for Orense and for Spain.

Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation

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