Women at the Harvard College Observatory

Black and white image of a group of women working at tables. Window light spills into the room. A woman with a steady gaze is standing left of center.
Williamina Fleming shown standing right of center. Harvard University Archives

Harvard College Observatory began hiring women assistants as early as 1875, though women like Eliza Quincy volunteered their time even before that date. Some of the earliest women to officially work at the observatory include R.T. Rogers, R.G. Saunders and Anna Winlock, who all assisted William A. Rogers in his project regarding time zones. It wasn't until 1881 that the fourth Harvard Observatory director, Edward Charles Pickering, began hiring women computers specifically to study and care for the observatory's growing glass plate photograph collection. The first women to work with the glass plates were Anna Winlock, Selina Bond, Nettie A. Farrar, and Williamina Fleming. Between 1881-1950s, women computers cataloged stars for the Henry Draper Catalogue (funded by Anna Palmer Draper, in honor of her late husband Dr. Henry Draper), discovered variable stars, studied stellar spectra and counted galaxies, to name a few of their duties. Funding for the production and study of the glass plates came from several main donors: Anna Palmer Draper, Uriah Atherton Boyden, and Catherine Wolfe Bruce

Several of the women who worked with the Harvard College Observatory's glass plates became famous astronomers in their day, particularly Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Antonia Maury, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.

This section will be continually updated with information about the women computers and their contributions to the HCO plate collection and research.

Alphabetical List of Early Women at the Observatory

Ames, Adelaide
Bailey, Ruth E. (Poulter)
Baker, Mary B. (Howe)
Bard, Darsie
Beach, Mary (Applegate)
Bibber, Florence May (Campbell)
Bok, Priscilla (Fairfield)
Bond, Selina (Cranch)
Bonesteele, Sarah (Hall)
Boyd, Constance D.
Brooks, Grace R.
Buckmann, E. Gertrude (Wolffe)
Caldwell, Irma W.
Cannon, Annie Jump
Carpenter, Alta M.
Clark, Geraldine E.
Crowne, Adele Del
Cushman, Florence
Donovan, Frances (Cooper-Marshal)
Draper, Anna Palmer
Dwyer, Madalen R.
Eddy, Imogen Willis
Evans, Margaret B.
Fleming, Williamina Paton (Stevens)
Fox, Carol G.
Garret, Ida May (Stevens)
Gifford, R.W.
Gill, Edith F.
Gill, Mabel A.
Hannon, Mildred L.
Harris, Nettie Farrar
Harwood, Margaret
Hawes, Marian Alberta
Hodgdon, Lilian L.
Hoffleit, Ellen Dorrit
Hogg, Helen (Sawyer)
Howarth, Helen
Howe, Mary E.
Hubbard, Genevieve F. (Mathews)
Leavitt, Henrietta Swan
Leland, Evelyn
Lindsay, Silvia Mussels
Mackie, Johanna Crighton (Stevens)
Masters, Annie E.
Maury, Antonia Caetana de Paiva
Mayall, Margaret (Walton)
McKay, Amy Jackson
Mohr, Jenka
Paraskevopoulos, Dorothy W. (Block)
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena
Raymond, Susan
Rodgers, Rebecca Titsworth
Roper, Helen J.
Rugg, Jennie T.
Russell, Harvia H. (Wilson)
Saunders, Maude (Harriman)
Saunders, Rhoda G.
Searle, Katharine
Seyfert, Muriel E. (Mussels)
Skinner, Marion Fields (Michaelis)
Sloan, Molly E. (O'Reilly)
Sparks, Beatrice L.
Stevens, Harriet I.
Stevens, Mabel Cushman
Storin, Nellie C.
Swope, Henrietta Hill
Symonds, Helen
Thomas, Helen Meriwether (Lewis)
Walker, Arville D.
Walker, Emma E.
Waterbury, Ruth C.
Wells, Louisa D.
White, Sarah Elizabeth (Breslin)
Whyte, Marion C.
Wills, Doris Wood
Wilson, Jane B.
Winlock, Anna
Winlock, Louisa
Woods, Ida
Wright, Frances Woodworth
Young, Ann (Sewell)