AAS Committee on the Status of Women 
Issue of May 1, 2009 
 
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery 
 
This week's issues: 
 
1. History of Women in Astronomy - Part 2 
 
2. Note on Beta Lyrae 
 
3. Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy 
 
4. Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it All 
 
5. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN 
 
6. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN 
 
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1. History of Women in Astronomy - Part 2 
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelzmemphis.edu] 
 
[Several weeks ago, we featured several famous 'computers' from Harvard 
College Observatory. As these women began to retire, the next generation 
followed a new trail blazed by Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin - four of the 
earliest PhDs in Astronomy from Harvard-Radcliffe went to women! Their 
lives and careers took very different paths. Here are some highlights 
-- Eds.] 
 
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900 - 1979) was born in England and studied at 
Cambridge University. Since Cambridge did not grant degrees to women at that 
time, she left in 1923 to work for Harlow Shapley, the director of the 
Harvard College Observatory. Shapley put the Harvard plate collection at her 
disposal. In 1925, she became the first person to earn a PhD in astronomy 
for her thesis: "Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational 
Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars". By applying the 
Saha equation, she was able to relate the spectral classes of stars to 
their temperatures. She showed that the variation in stellar absorption 
lines was due to differing amounts of ionization, not to different elemental 
abundances, and that stars were made primarily of hydrogen. Astronomer 
Otto Struve characterized it as "undoubtedly the most brilliant PhD 
thesis ever written in astronomy." 
 
For more, see, e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecilia_Payne-Gaposchkin 
 
Emma Williams Vyssotsky (1894 -1975) was born in Philadelphia and received 
her PhD in 1930. She spent her career at the McCormick Observatory of the 
University of Virginia, where her specialty was motions of stars and 
kinematics of the galaxy. She married the Russian-born astronomer 
Alexander Vyssotsky in 1929 and had one son, Victor. She won the Annie 
J. Cannon Award in Astronomy in 1946. The asteroid 1600 Vyssotsky was named 
in her honor; it was discovered by Carl Wirtanen, who received his MS while 
working at McCormick Observatory. 
 
For more, see, e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Vyssotsky 
 
Carol Anger Rieke (1908 - 1999) earned her PhD in 1933. She established 
the relationship between absorption line width and luminosity for A and B 
stars in M7 and the Pleiades. She compared the absolute and apparent 
magnitudes of these stars in 54 clusters to measure their distances. Her 
work inspired a newspaper article with the headline "Girl Measures Light 
from Stars," but the real news, according to the article, was that a girl 
had done the work. She married in 1932 and followed her husband from city 
to city, eventually settling in Chicago where she raised her family and 
worked teaching mathematics and astronomy at a local community college. 
 
For more, see, e.g., http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2000BAAS...32.1685R 
 
Ellen Dorrit Hoffleit (1907 - 2007) was born in Alabama and earned her PhD 
in 1938. She was hired as an astronomer at Harvard in 1948 and moved to 
Yale in 1956.  She was the author of the Bright Star Catalogue, a compendium 
of information on the brightest stars in the sky. She co-authored The 
General Catalogue of Trigonometric Stellar Parallaxes, which contains 
information critical to understanding the kinematics of the Milky Way and 
the evolution of the solar neighborhood. With Harlan Smith, Hoffleit 
discovered the optical variability of the first-discovered quasar 3C 273. 
She was a director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island. 
In 1988, Hoffleit was awarded the Biesbroeck Prize by the AAS for a 
lifetime of service to astronomy. She lived long enough to celebrate 
her 100th birthday. 
 
For more, see, e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorrit_Hoffleit 
 
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2. Note on Beta Lyrae 
From: Linda M. French [lfrenchiwu.edu] 
 
I greatly enjoyed the brief biographies of pioneering women in astronomy in 
a recent email.  Without quibbling, I'd like to point out one slight 
misstatement in the biography of Williamina Fleming.  I am not an expert on 
Fleming, but the statement that she  "...discovered...the first spectroscopic 
binary, Beta Lyrae" is not correct.  The star, of course, was known far 
earlier, and its variability was established by John Goodricke of York, 
England, the discoverer of the periodicity of Algol and Delta Cephei.  
He reports on the star and gives a good estimate of its period in the 
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 75, 
(1785), pp. 153-164.  Goodricke's accomplishments are even more 
impressive when one remembers that he was totally deaf and lived less 
than 22 years. I suspect the intent was to say that Fleming established 
the binary nature of Beta Lyrae through interpretation of spectroscopic 
data, a fine accomplishment in itself. 
 
[Note: this was indeed the intent. The most challenging part of writing 
these biographies was to keep them short. There is so much to say about 
these amazing women! With this goal in mind, however, I was less precise 
in my wording than I might have been. The emphasis was intended to be on 
the _spectroscopic_ nature of the discovery -- Ed.] 
 
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3. Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy 
From: Geoff Clayton [gclaytonfenway.phys.lsu.edu] 
 
Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy: Stars and Satellites  
 
By Mary Bruck 
 
Jointly published with the Royal Astronomical Society 
 
Careers in astronomy for women (as in other sciences) were a rarity in 
Britain and Ireland until well into the twentieth century. The book 
investigates the place of women in astronomy before that era, recounted in 
the form of biographies of about 25 women born between 1650 and 1900 who in 
varying capacities contributed to its progress during the eighteenth, 
nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. There are some famous names among 
them whose biographies have been written before now, there are others who 
have received less than their due recognition while many more occupied 
inconspicuous and sometimes thankless places as assistants to male family 
members. All deserve to be remembered as interesting individuals in an 
earlier opportunity-poor age. Placed in roughly chronological order, 
their lives constitute a sample thread in the story of female entry into 
the male world of science. 
 
http://www.springer.com/astronomy/book/978-90-481-2472-5?token=3DdC6qWE2aEbM55Ab 
 
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4. Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it All 
From: HannahWomen in Astronomy Blog, April 26, 2009 
 
Here is a review by AstronomumAstronomoms of 
Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it All (available as a pdf download): 

http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?id=1196 
 
I recently had my attention drawn to Mothers in Science: 64 Ways to Have it 
All, which is a Royal Society publication made up of one page 
career/family timelines and profiles of 64 different mothers in science. 
 
The idea behind the book I think is a great one - that we spend a lot of 
time with depressing statistics about women in science, and often "blame" the 
disproportionate burden of childcare women often face for the lack of 
women at the higher levels of science. This has given young women the idea 
that if they want children they cannot have a science career, or that they 
must have children at only very specific times to succeed (I cannot count 
the number of times I have heard that having babies as a postdoc is a death 
sentence for your career). This book then presents a random selection of 
women with children who work in science as a move towards "dispelling these 
myths" and being more encouraging (it's all written a lot more fluently 
in the introduction to the book) . . .  
 
 
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