Master Master Doctor of the Stars & Stepping to Freud

Hey Everyone,

Here we are with another episode. The start is a real tearjerker. Hope you enjoy!

Name: Kalpana Chawla

Dates: March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003

What She Did: Astronaut

  • Kalpana was born on March 17, 1962 in Karnal India.
  • Kalpana’s father supported the family by selling coffee, candy, soaps, and performing odd jobs.
  • Eventually, he became a self-taught technologist and engineer which allowed him to manufacture tires.
  • Later, he married Kalpana’s mother and added Kalpana to their joint 16-member family.
  • Kalpana’s parents were so busy that they didn’t have a chance to have her
    naming ceremony. In Hinduism the traditional naming ceremony, or, Namkaran, typically takes place 12 days after the baby’s birth.
  • Instead of having a naming ceremony, Kalpana’s family called her by her pet
    name ‘Monto’ at home. When Kalpana’s aunt took her to enroll in preschool, the principal asked for her name. The aunt said they were considering a few different names- Kalpana, Jyotsna, and Sunaina- but hadn’t decided.
  • The principal asked Kalpana which name she liked. Her name means “imagination.”
  • Kalpana grew up fascinated with aircraft and the sky. Her family would sleep on the roof of their home in the summer and Kalpana would stare up at the stars. She would also visit the local flying club near her house to watch the planes with her father, drawing pictures of them after.
  • She even got to ride in a Pushpak and a glider. When planes from the club would fly over her house, she’d wave at them.
  • Growing up, Kalpana rejected a lot of traditional feminine practices; she cut her hair short, didn’t wear makeup, refused to cook or do housework, and was often found wearing pants.
  • In 1976, Kalpana graduated from the Tagore School. She excelled in school and went on to earn her Bachelor of Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh, India.
  • Her family supported her educational pursuits (though her Father needed some
    convincing as this was all very unusual for a woman at the time.) She was the only woman in the Aeronautical Engineering program and became the first woman to graduate with that degree in the college’s history.
  • Kalpana continued her education in the United States, earning her Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas Arlington in 1984.
  • Then she earned her Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1986 and finally her Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering in 1988 from the University of
    Colorado, so she’s rolling in degrees.
  • She also had a Certificated Flight Instructor’s license and her Commercial Pilot’s licenses. While she’s accomplishing all of this, she also married Jean-Pierre Harrison in 1983.
  • The first time Kalpana began imagining the possibility of space travel was when she was 11, when she saw the Viking lander on Mars in the 1980s. This opened up a whole new world for Kalpana and it’s no surprised she began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California researching computational fluid dynamics on vertical and short take-off and landing concepts.
  • Then, in 1993, she became Vice President and Research Scientist of Overset Methods, Inc. specializing in simulation of moving multiple body problems. There, she was able to develop and implement efficient techniques to perform aerodynamic optimization, which is basically maximizing the performance of any given body like a wing by changing its shape.
  • In 1991, Kalpana had become a naturalized U.S. citizen and applied for the NASA Astronaut Corps which is basically astronaut school. Becoming an astronaut was obviously an intensive pursuit leaving her no time to visit her family in India. The last time she visited them was in 1991.
  • In 1995, she joined the corps and in 1996 was chosen for her first flight.
  • Kalpana was part of a 6-astronaut crew that flew the Space Shuttle Columbia flight STS-87 with the goal of performing two extra vehicular activities (EVAs) and deploying the SPARTAN-201 experiment which was meant to use telescopes to study the sun.
  • This mission marked a series of firsts:
    • This was the first time that an EVA was performed from the Columbia.
    • It also marked the first EVA conducted by a Japanese astronaut Takao Doi.
    • Finally, with Kalpana acting as a Mission Specialist, she was the first Indian woman in space.
  • The team shot into space on November 19 th , 1997, travelling over 6.5 million miles, orbiting the earth 252 times, and logging over 376 hours and 34 minutes in space.
  • On the mission, Kalpana deployed the Spartan satellite. Unfortunately, it malfunctioned which required two other astronauts to leave the craft on a spacewalk to re-capture the satellite.
  • NASA investigated the
    incident for 5 months and identified that it was an error in the software that caused the issue, not Kalpana.
  • Kalpana also operated Columbia’s robot arm during the mission.
  • The crew returned safely to Earth after their mission on December 5, 1997.
  • In 2001, Kalpana was selected for her second mission to space as a mission specialist for the STS-107, once again aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. This would be its 28 flight.
  • The purpose of the mission was to perform a variety of experiments
  • The mission experienced several delays due scheduling issues and technical difficulties such as finding cracks in the shuttle engine flow liners.
  • Finally, on January 16, 2003, Kalpana boarded Columbia with her 6 crewmembers, Commander Rick D. Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon (who was also the first Israeli astronaut,) Mission Specialist David M. Brown, and Mission Specialist Laurel Blair Salton Clark.
  • As Columbia launched into space, a piece of foam insulation broke from the shuttle’s external tank and hit the left wing of the orbiter. Damage like this had occurred before, but engineers suspected the damage could have been more serious.
  • NASA managers performed a limited investigation, saying that
    the crew couldn’t fix the problem anyway. Engineers made 3 requests for the Department of Defense to conduct imaging of the shuttle in orbit to examine the damage and determine its severity. NASA management wouldn’t honor the requests and actually intervened to stop the Department of Defense from helping.
  • The crew successfully reached space and performed over 80 experiments. While aboard Columbia, Kalpana had a conversation with the Prime Minister of India. He said “We are proud of you. Every single one of us.”
  • When Columbia re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003, the damage from the foam block allowed hot atmospheric gasses to penetrate the damaged wing and destroy its internal structure.
  • The shuttle became unstable and broke apart. The shuttle essentially disintegrated over Texas, killing all 7 crewmembers.
  • The catastrophic reentry was broadcasted all over the world. Kalpana’s remains were identified and she was cremated and scattered at Zion National Park in Utah as per her wishes.
  • Kalpana’s brother, Sanjay, said of her, “To me, my sister is not dead. She is immortal. Isn’t that what a star is? She is a permanent star in the sky. She will always be up there where she belongs.”
  • In 2013, retired NASA official Wayne Hale recalled what the Director of Mission Operations, Jon C. Harpold shared with him before the disaster which Hale said captured the mindset of many at NASA, including the astronauts: “You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the thermal protection system. If it had been damaged, it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight, and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”


  • Kalpana Chawla has been posthumously awarded:
    • The NASA Space Flight Medal
    • The NASA Distinguished Service Medal
    • The Defense Distinguished Service Medal
    • The Congressional Space Medal of Honor
  • On February 5, just a few days after the Columbia disaster, the Prime Minister of India declared that all Indian meterological satellites, or METSAT, would now be renamed, KALPANA. Many streets, buildings, a scholarship, planetarium, and even an asteroid have been named after Kalpana. There is actually an asteroid named after each member of the Columbia crew.
  • Kalpana Chawla is still considered a national hero in India.

Name: Melanie Klein

Dates: March 30, 1881 – September 22,1960

What She Did: Author and Psychoanalyst

  • Born the fourth and final child of Jewish parents Moriz and Libussa Reizes, Melanie would spend most of her early life in Vienna, Austria.
  • Her childhood was relatively happy, although there was often a lack of affection in her family. In her experience, it was her mother who ran the household and her father who was her intellectual mentor.
  • Two of her siblings died at young ages and this has been said to have contributed to the depression that Klein struggled with her entire life.
  • Her older sister, Sidoine, died at the age of 8 of tuberculosis. Sidoine taught Klein to read and do arithmetic, and the two sisters were very close.
  • Her father, Moriz Reizes, died at the age of 72 when Klein was 18.
  • At the age of twenty-one she married industrial chemist Arthur Klein, Arthur was a friend of her brother and her mother’s second cousin.
  • Melanie and Arthur had three children: Meliita, Hans, and Erich. Melanie suffered from clinical depression, with these pregnancies taking quite a toll on her.
  • This, in conjunction with an unhappy marriage, soon led Melanie to seek out means of treatment.
  • Shortly after her family moved to Budapest in 1910, Melanie began a course of therapy with psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi. It was during their time together that Melanie expressed interest in the study of psychoanalysis.
  • Encouraged by Ferenczi, Melanie began her studies by the simple observations of her own children.
  • Until this point very minimal documentation existed on the topic of psychoanalysis concerning children, and Melanie seized the opportunity by developing her play technique.
  • Comparable to that of free association in adult psychoanalysis, Melanie’s play technique sought to interpret the unconscious meaning behind the play and interaction of children.
  • She began familiarizing herself with Freud’s ‘On Dreams’ in 1914. She then met Freud in Budapest where she published her first paper “The Development of the Child”. She became a member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society in 1919, but had to leave Hungary due to anti-Semitism.
  • During 1921, in the wake of a dissolving marriage, Melanie moved to Berlin where she joined the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society under the tutelage of Karl Abraham.
  • Although Abraham supported her pioneering work with children, neither Melanie nor her ideas received much support in Berlin.
  • As a divorced woman whose academic qualifications did not even include a bachelor’s degree, Melanie was a visible iconoclast within a profession dominated by male physicians.
  • Despite this impediment, Melanie’s up and coming work possessed a strong influence on the developing theories and techniques of psychoanalysis, particularly in Great Britain.
  • Klein was one of the first to use traditional psychoanalysis with young children. She was innovative in both her techniques (such as working with children using toys) and her theories on infant development.
  • Klein established a highly influential training program in psychoanalysis.
    • By observing and analyzing the play and interactions of children, Klein built onto the work of Freud’s unconscious mind.
    • Her dive into the unconscious mind of the infant yielded the findings of the early Oedipus complex, as well as the developmental roots of the superego.
  • Klein’s theoretical work incorporates Freud’s belief in the existence of the “death pulsation”, reflecting the fact that all living organisms are inherently drawn toward an inorganic state, and therefore, in an unspecified sense, contain a drive towards death.
  • In psychological terms, Eros (properly, the life pulsation), the postulated sustaining and uniting principle of life, is thereby presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos (death pulsation), which seeks to terminate and disintegrate life.
  • Both Freud and Klein regarded these biomental forces as the foundations of the psyche.
  • These primary unconscious forces, whose mental matrix is the Id, ego and superego.
  • .While Freud’s ideas concerning children mostly came from working with adult patients, Klein was innovative in working directly with children, often as young as two years old. Klein saw children’s play as their primary mode of emotional communication.
  • While observing children play with toys such as dolls, animals, plasticine, pencil and paper, Klein documented their activities and interactions, then attempted to interpret the unconscious meaning behind their play.
  • Following Freud she emphasized the significant role that parental figures played in the child’s fantasy life, and considered that the timing of Freud’s Oedipus complex was incorrect. Contradicting Freud, she concluded that the superego was present from birth.
  • After exploring ultra-aggressive fantasies of hate, envy, and greed in very young and disturbed children, Melanie proposed a model of the human psyche that linked significant oscillations of state, with the postulated Eros or Thanatos pulsations.
  • She named the state of the psyche in which the sustaining principle of life is in domination the depressive position. This is considered by many to be her great contribution to psychoanalytic thought.
  • She later developed her ideas about an earlier developmental psychological state corresponding to the disintegrating tendency of life, which she called the paranoid-schizoid position.
  • Klein’s insistence on regarding aggression as an important force in its own right when analysing children brought her into conflict with Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, who was one of the other prominent child psychotherapists in continental Europe but who moved to London in 1938 where Klein had been working for several years.
  • Many controversies arose from this conflict, and these are often referred to as the controversial discussions. Battles were played out between the two sides, each presenting scientific papers, working out their respective positions and where they differed, during war-time Britain.
  • A compromise was eventually reached whereby three distinct training groups were formed within the British Psychoanalytical Society, with Anna Freud’s influence remaining largely predominant in the US.
  • The school of Kleinianism was the first branch of the proverbial Freudian tree to remain part of the psychoanalytic movement.
  • Klein is known to be one of the primary founders of object relations theory.
    • This theory of psychoanalysis is based on the assumption that all individuals have within them an internalized, and primarily unconscious realm of relationships.
    • These relationships refer not only to the world around the individual, but more specifically to other individuals surrounding the subject. Object relation theory focuses primarily on the interaction individuals have with others, how those interactions are internalized, and how these now internalized object relations affect one’s psychological framework.
    • The term “object” refers to the potential embodiment of fear, desire, envy or other comparable emotions. The object and the subject are separated,[7] allowing for a more simplistic approach to addressing the deprived areas of need when used in the clinical setting.
  • Melanie died of colon cancer on September 22, 1960

Bathing in Hitler’s Tub & The Limbless Wonder

Name: Elizabeth “Lee” Miller

Dates: April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977

What She Did: Model, photographer, and photojournalist.

  • Lee was born on April 23, 1907, in Poughkeepsie, New York.
  • Theodore always favored Lee, and he often used her as a model for his amateur photography.
  • When she was seven years old, Lee was raped while staying with a family friend in Brooklyn and infected with gonorrhea.
  • She traveled to Europe in 1925, staying in Paris to study art. Miller’s time in Europe was brief, being called back to New York by her father.
  • Upon her return, she enrolled in the Art Students League of New York in New York City.
  • As a 19-year-old art student in New York, Lee was nearly killed when she stepped into oncoming traffic. The man who saved her was none other than Condé Nast, the founder of Vogue.
  • Recognizing her striking beauty, Nast launched her as a Vogue cover girl in 1927 and she quickly became one of New York’s top models.
  • Miller’s look was exactly what Vogue’s then editor-in-chief Edna Woolman Chase was looking for to represent the emerging idea of the “modern girl.”
  • For the next two years she was one of the most sought-after models in New York.
  • A photograph of Miller by Steichen was used to advertise Kotex menstrual pads, without her consent, effectively ending her career as a fashion model. S
  • he was hired by a fashion designer in 1929 to make drawings of fashion details in Renaissance paintings but in time grew tired of this and found photography more efficient.
  • In 1929, Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray.
  • Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his model and collaborator (announcing to him, “I’m your new student”), as well as his lover and muse.
  • While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Ray’s fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. S
  • Together with Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of solarisation, through an accident variously described, with one of Miller’s accounts involving a mouse running over her foot, causing her to switch on the light in mid-development.
  • Not only does solarisation fit the Surrealist principle of unconscious accident being integral to art, it evokes the style’s appeal to the irrational or paradoxical in combining polar opposites of positive and negative.
  • Jean Cocteau, who was so mesmerized by Miller’s beauty that he coated her in butter and transformed her into a plaster cast of a classical statue for his film, The Blood of a Poet (1930).
  • During a dispute with Ray, regarding the attribution of their co-produced work, Ray is said to have slashed an image of Miller’s neck with a razor. She left him and went back home.
  • In 1932 she returned to New York City and established a portrait and commercial photography studio with her brother Erik as her darkroom assistant.
    • Clients of the Lee Miller Studio included BBDO, Henry Sell, Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin and Co., and Jay Thorpe.
  • During 1932 Miller was included in the Modern European Photography exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition International Photographers.
  • In 1933, Julien Levy gave Miller the only solo exhibition of her life. Among her portrait clients were the surrealist artist Joseph Cornell, actresses Lilian Harvey and Gertrude Lawrence, and the African-American cast of the Virgil Thomson–Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1934).
  • In 1934, Miller abandoned her studio to marry the Egyptian businessman and engineer Aziz Eloui Bey.
    • Although she did not work as a professional photographer during this period, the photographs she took while living in Egypt with Eloui, including Portrait of Space, are regarded as some of her most striking surrealist images.
  • By 1937, Miller had grown bored with her life in Cairo and returned to Paris, where she met the British surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose.
  • Although not yet divorced, she was living with Penrose when war broke out.
  • Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue, documenting the Blitz.
  • She was accredited into the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications from December 1942.
  • She teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life correspondent on many assignments. She traveled to France less than a month after D-Day and recorded the first use of napalm at the siege of St. Malo, as well as the liberation of Paris, the Battle of Alsace, and the horror of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.
  • On April 29, 1945, she walked through the gates of Dachau as it was liberated by American forces. Deeply shocked, she nevertheless photographed the evidence of the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews and other “enemies” of the Third Reich.
    • The pictures are stark and sickening, and have lost none of their emotional impact.
    • A photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub with a shower hose looped in the center behind her head, recollecting a noose, taken at Adolf Hitler’s apartment in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller–Scherman partnership.
  • During this time, Miller photographed dying children in a Vienna hospital, peasant life in post-war Hungary, corpses of Nazi officers and their families, and finally, the execution of Prime Minister László Bárdossy.
  • After returning to Britain from central Europe, Miller started to suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression and what later became known as Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • She began to drink heavily, and became uncertain about her future.
  • In 1946, she traveled with Penrose to the United States, where she visited Ray in California. After she discovered she was pregnant by Penrose with her only son, she divorced Bey and, on May 3, 1947, married Penrose.
  • Their son, Antony Penrose, was born in September 1947.
  • In 1949, the couple bought Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, East Sussex. During the 1950s and 1960s,
    • Farley Farm became a sort of artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst.
  • While Miller continued to do the occasional photoshoot for Vogue, she soon discarded the darkroom for the kitchen, becoming a gourmet cook.
    • According to her housekeeper Patsy she specialized in “historical food” like roast suckling pig as well as fare such as marshmallows in a cola sauce (especially made to annoy English critic Cyril Connolly who told her Americans could not cook).
  • She also provided photographs for biographies Penrose wrote on Picasso and Antoni Tàpies.
  • Miller was investigated by the British security service MI5 during the 1940s and 1950s, on suspicion of being a Soviet spy
  • In October 1969, Miller was asked in an interview with a New York Times reporter what it was that drew her to photography. Her response was that it was “a matter of getting out on a damn limb and sawing it off behind you.”
  • Anton had a difficult and painful relationship with his mother. “It’s not easy to have a relationship with an alcoholic parent,” he says. “It was challenging, unusual and threatening. She was normally a very generous, sensitive and kind person, but when drunk she would be verbally abusive and cutting. The things she’d say would be really astonishing. She never hit me – she didn’t need to. She could do all the damage with words.”
  • Her drinking took its toll on her looks. Antony thinks she was devastated by the loss of her beauty. “It was desperate for her. There was an almost wilful self-destruction.”
  • In later years, Anton says, Lee recovered to some extent. “She managed to claw her way out of alcoholism and depression, and reinvented herself as a gourmet Surrealist cook.”
    • Guests were served blue spaghetti, green chicken and pink cauliflower breasts – complete with nipples and pink sauce.
  • Thanks in part to Antony’s wife Suzanna, mother and son were eventually reconciled. Lee held her first grandchild, Ami, in her arms a few weeks before dying from cancer.
  • Lee died from cancer at Farley Farm House in 1977, aged 70. She was cremated, and her ashes were spread through her herb garden at Farley.
  • Shortly after Lee’s death, Suzanna discovered the stash of negatives, prints and articles in the attic at Farley Farm, the Penroses’ home near Chiddingly, East Sussex, where Antony still lives.
    • “Until then, I’d seen her as a booze-soaked, hysterical woman, “Anthony says. “I had to re-evaluate my entire attitude to her.”
  • At the time she died, Lee’s work as an artist was nearly forgotten, though Man Ray’s photographs of her continued to be well known. Since the discovery of her photos, Anthony has worked tirelessly to restore her reputation. Much of her work is now archived online, and Anthony has written biographies of both his parents. Exhibitions of Lee’s photos are shown around the world, and he conducts tours around the family home.


  • Anton owns Farley Farm and offers tours of the works of Miller and Penrose. The house is home to the private collections of Miller and Penrose, their own work and some of their favourite pieces of art.
  • Her pictures are accessible at the Lee Miller Archive.
  • In 1985, Penrose published the first biography of Miller, entitled The Lives of Lee Miller.
  • Antone and David Scherman collaborated on the book Lee Miller’s War: Photographer and Correspondent With the Allies in Europe 1944–45, in 1992.
  • In 2005, Miller’s life story was turned into a musical, Six Pictures Of Lee Miller, with music and lyrics by British composer Jason Carr. It was premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex. Also in 2005, Carolyn Burke’s substantial biography, Lee Miller, A Life, was published.
  • In 2007, Traces of Lee Miller: Echoes from St. Malo, an interactive CD and DVD about Miller’s war photography in St. Malo, was released with the support of Hand Productions and Sussex University.
  • In 2015, an exhibition of Miller’s photographs at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Lee Miller and Picasso, focussed “on the relationship between Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Pablo Picasso.” In the same year, a work of historical fiction, The Woman in the Photograph by Dana Gynther, was published. It builds its story around Miller’s affair with Ray in Paris circa 1930.
  • In 2019, a work of historical fiction, The Age of Light, by Whitney Scharer, was published. It tells the story of Miller’s life and work, and her relationship with Man Ray.


Name: Sarah Biffen

Dates: October 1784- October 1850)

What She Did: Painter

  • Sarah was born in October 25th , 1784 into a poor farming family in East Quantoxhead, Somerset.
  • She wasborn with no arms and vestigial legs due to a condition known as phocomelia which affects bone and limb development in utero. P
    • Phocomelia can be caused by thalidomide, a drug that was marketed to pregnant women in the 1950s to alleviate morning sickness.
  • Of the thousands of cases that resulted from thalidomide in the 50s, only about 50% survived.
  • Sarah’s condition was so unusual, some villagers were actually scared of her.
  • Without the aid of doctors, support, or the internet, her parents weren’t sure how to care for Sarah and treated her as a fragile, sickly child.
  • However, as children are wont to do, Sarah pushed her boundaries and came up with creative ways to do everyday activities like sewing with her mouth. She literally learned to thread the needle, tie a knot, use scissors, and made her own dresses.
  • Then, she taught herself how to read and write by putting a pen in her mouth. She would carry her pens around using loops she sewed in the shoulders of her dresses.
  • When she was 12 or 14, a traveling showman named Emmanuel Dukes passed through towns and saw Sarah.
  • Emmanuel offered Sarah room, board, and a salary to become an attraction in his traveling sideshow.
  • Sarah joined Emmanuel’s show, billed as The Astonishing Curiosity and The Limbless Wonder. People paid upwards of 2 shillings to watch Sarah sew, write, use scissors, and more.
  • This next part is fuzzy: Some records say that Sarah already knew how to paint while others say Emmanuel, who had a bit of an art background, taught her by putting a paintbrush in her mouth.
  • Either way, Sarah began drawing landscapes, painting miniature portraits on ivory, keeping her pens and paintbrushes in the loops she sewed onto the shoulders of her dress. Her art would sell for 3-10 guineas each (a little over $300 today).
  • Emmanuel, part of a long, proud tradition of predatory talent managers, took
    most of the profits while Sarah earned a meager salary of 5 pounds a year.
  • Word of Sarah and her work began to get around and she became a well-known attraction around fairs and festivals.
  • Emmanuel would bet that if Sarah failed to write, paint, sew, or use scissors with her mouth, he’d pay 1,000 guineas.
  • In 1808, George Douglas, the Earl of Morton attended the St. Bartholomew’s fair. He wanted to see if Sarah was really as good as they said. She painted his portrait and proceeded to blow his mind.
  • He proceeded to tell all of his influential rich friends whose minds were also blown.
  • The Earl sponsored Sarah so she could receive art lessons from William Craig, a painter with the Royal Academy of Arts.
  • She began to receive more prestigious patrons and the Earl encouraged her to strike out on her own.
  • She was anxious to leave Emanuel Duke, he had been managing her for 16 years.
  • Sarah set up shop in Bond Street where she began painting a series of impressive clients, including Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Georges 3 $ 4, and many others. She also served as an official artist in the King of Holland’s court and she even painted Ada Lovelace!
  • Sarah became a huge deal, not just because of her unique medical condition, but because her art was incredible.
  • Her miniature portraits were small and delicate, but also highly detailed. Charles Dickens mentioned her in books and she received an award for her work from the Society of Arts.
  • Sarah met and married William Wright, a banker. However, the marriage didn’t even last a year. He left her with an alimony of 40 pounds a year.
  • Then, things got worse financially when the Earl of Morton died in 1827. Without a noble sponsoring her, Sarah began receiving fewer and fewer commissions and her finances began to dry up.
  • While Queen Victoria, in acknowledgement of her artistic skill, awarded Sarah a Civil List pension, she still had to go back to painting at festivals to make ends meet.
  • Though life was undoubtedly difficult for Sarah, she always kept a positive outward demeanor.
  • Dedicated patrons helped finance Sarah in her final years and it’s through these financial documents that we get more insight into her attitudes in life.
  • She insisted that Emmanuel and her husband had treated her well, though this is doubtful. She seemed determined to maintain a positive attitude and not speak ill of anyone.
  • On October 2nd , 1850 at 66 years old, Sarah Biffen passed away. She is buried in St. James Churchyard in Liverpool England.
  • The epitaph on her grave reads as follows:

“Reader pause. Deposited beneath are the remains of Sarah Biffin, who was born without arms or hands at Quantox Head County of Somerset, 25 th of October, 1784, died at Liverpool, 2 nd October, 1850. Few have passed through the vail of life so much the child of hapless fortune as the deceased; and yet possessor of mental endowments of no ordinary kind. Gifted with singular talents as an Artist, thousands have been gratified with the able productions of her pencil! Whilst versatile conversation and agreeable manners elicited the admiration of all. This tribute to one so universally admired is paid by those who were best acquainted with the character it so briefly portrays. Do any inquire otherwise- the answer is supplied in the solemn admonition of the Apostle- Now no longer the subject of tears, Her conflict and trials are o’er In the presence of God she appears”


  • Sarah’s work is admired by modern day artists, regardless of the obstacles she had to overcome to produce it.
  • Sarah is also a testament to how people are about to adapt and persevere in daunting situations.