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Women Editors of the Astrophysical Journal

By You-Hua Chu

January 2001

You-Hua Chu was educated at the National Taiwan University in physics and at the University of California at Berkeley in astronomy. Following postdoctoral positions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and
Northwestern University, she settled in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where she was for twelve years a soft-money researcher supported by grants from the AAS (occasionally), NSF (initially), and NASA (continuously), all while raising three children. She is now a full professor in Astronomy at the
University of Illinois, enjoying teaching and observing the multi-phase ISM with Chandra, XMM, FUSE, HST, and NOAO.

I RECENTLY stumbled upon the fact that not a single member of the current Editorial Board of the
Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) is female. Considering that the Editorial Board consists of an Editor-in-Chief, an
Associate Editor-in-Chief, and 14-15 Scientific Editors, this missing-woman status could be statistically
significant. My initial shock gave way to curiosity — how had women contributed,
why were there currently no women on the Editorial Board of the ApJ, and how could the
situation be changed? I did a few hours of research in our department reading room to find
the answers. Here I report my findings.

First, I will briefly review the history of the ApJ. The ApJ was founded in 1895, and was
originally named "The Astrophysical Journal, An International Review of Spectroscopy and
Astronomical Physics." The name was changed to"The Astrophysical Journal" in 1962. The ApJ
belonged to the University of Chicago Press (UCP) until 1972 when the ownership was transferred
to the American Astronomical Society (AAS). At about this time, the editing of the ApJ
Letters (ApJL) was separated from the ApJ.

The editorial bodies of the ApJ and ApJL have gone through several changes since 1910
(the year our department's ApJ collection started). These are summarized in Table 1a, page 3 and Table 1b, page 4. Before 1952, the ApJ had a small number of Editors (2-4) and a large number of Collaborators (13-17) or Collaborating Editors (~9). From 1952 to 1978, the editorial office shrank to a Managing Editor, an Associate Editor, and five members of an Editorial Board. The number of Associate Editors grew to two in 1990 and then to six in 1994. In 1996, the Managing Editor was replaced by an Editor-in-Chief, and the
Associate Editors were replaced by a still larger number of Scientific Editors (12-15).
An Associate Editor-in-Chief joined in 1999, completing the current structure of the ApJ Editorial Board.

When the ApJ was owned by the UCP, the University of Chicago selected the editors and
board of Collaborators until 1944. Starting in 1945, the board of Collaborators was replaced by "Collaborating
Editors," who were appointed by the AAS on a rotating basis. After 1971, all ApJ and ApJL
editors were appointed by the AAS. Starting in 1997, the Scientific Editors were selected
from applicants who responded to the advertisements in the AAS Newsletter and Job Register.

I am not certain about the functions of "Collaborators", "Collaborating Editors", and the
"Editorial Board" before 1979. These people probably aided occasionally in the review of
papers, as implied by Abt's article in the AAS's First Century. The Publication Board from 1979
to present has been in charge of selecting the editors of the ApJ, but does not review papers or
participate in the editorial work and is therefore not included in my accounting.

Since 1910, eight women have participated in the editorial work for the ApJ or ApJL (see
Table 2, page 4). Their positions among the male peers are shown in Table 3, page 6. Cecilia
Payne-Gaposchkin was the first woman editor of the ApJ, serving as a Collaborator from
1941-’44, and a Collaborating Editor from 1945-’51. It is interesting to note that the
Collaborators and Collaborating Editors were listed alphabetically in the ApJ's inside cover until 1947,
then Payne-Gaposchkin became the leading Collaborating Editor. If the new, non-alphabetical
ordering reflected the Collaborating Editors' efforts, Payne-Gaposchkin would have been the one
that contributed the most. Anne Underhill made a brief appearance on the Editorial Board from
1962-’63. Vera Rubin was an Associate Letters Editor from 1977-’82, immediately followed by
Sandra Faber, who served from 1983-’87.

The editorial office of the ApJ went through an accelerated expansion in the 1990s. Starting in
1990, the ApJ increased its number of Associate Editors to distribute the workload. Virginia
Trimble was recruited in the first wave in 1990. Anne Cowley joined the Associate Editors in
1994. In 1997, a new Editor-in-Chief (E.i.C.) was hired to replace Helmut Abt but resigned
before starting the position. Both Virginia Trimble and Anne Cowley continued to serve as Scientific Editors. Susan Kleinmann, originally appointed to be the Associate Editor-in-Chief working
with the new Editor-in-Chief, served as a Scientific Editor in 1998. In 1998, Virginia Trimble
finished her term, Anne Cowley left the ApJ to edit the Publication of the Astronomical Society of the
Pacific (PASP), and Susan Kleinmann resigned before the expiration of her term, leaving no
women on the ApJ Editorial Board. In 1999, a new Editor-in-Chief was appointed, but the Editorial Board of the ApJ remains woman-less to date.

Is the current lack of women in the ApJ's Editorial Board a statistical fluke that is temporary
or a symptom of social problems that are now surfacing? There is currently a call for
applications for Scientific Editors. If new women editors are appointed, the current lack of women
among the ApJ's Scientific Editors would appear to be a statistical fluke. If no women
are appointed, then the persisting situation might indicate a real problem.

To foresee whether to expect a problem, we can look further into the history and the qualification of
editors. Prior to 1970, most of the main editors of the ApJ were also recipients of the Helen B. Warner
Prize, the Dannie Heineman Prize, or the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship. In the 1970s, the number
of astronomers (baby-boomers) grew steeply, but not the number of prizes; therefore, the correlation
between editors and the prizes diminished. It is interesting to note that before 1990, the women editors
that had completed their full terms (Payne-Gaposchkin, Rubin, and Faber) all belong to the elite group of
women recipients of the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship or the Dannie Heineman Prize for
Astrophysics. (Only four of the 74 recipients of these prestigious awards are women, the fourth
being Margaret Burbidge.)

Advances in observational and computational facilities in the last two decades have driven the
development of a rich interrelated set of highly specialized subfields within astronomy and astrophysics.
Over this time, the volume of the ApJ has grown almost exponentially. Consequently,
it has become difficult for a small number of editors to oversee the reviewing of the ApJ,
which has led to a rapid increase in the number of Scientific Editors in the 1990s. The qualifications
required for Scientific Editors are a strong record of published scientific research
and the willingness to commit a considerable amount of time to help maintain the scientific
standards of the ApJ. Of the three women Scientific Editors of the ApJ, the two that completed
at least one term are both senior astronomers with tenured positions.

If we extrapolate from the successful women editors of the past to predict the future, we
might expect difficulty in finding new women editors simply because the percentage of women
decreases with increasing seniority. The possibility of finding a new woman editor is further limited by the pool of senior women astronomers who are willing to commit ~20% of their time to serve as Scientific
Editors and whose research fields meet the current needs of the ApJ.

Even if it is not clear why there are presently no women on the ApJ
Editorial Board, it is clear that this situation can be changed. I urge senior
women to consider applying for this and future Scientific Editor positions.
I also encourage the AAS Publication Board to actively seek out qualified
women editors. Many of us would like to see a gender-balanced Editorial
Board of the ApJ, and now is the time to make changes to reach this goal.*

*Editors’ Note:
We are happy to report that women applicants are already being sought actively by the ApJ.


The author thanks Helmut Abt and Jay Gallagher for providing useful information and discussions, and Robert Gruendl for helpful comments and critical reading of the manuscript. She also wishes to thank her parents for eternal encouragement; the AAS, NSF, and NASA for financial support; and friends for
moral support.

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