HCO and the Harvard Computers

The Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has an extensive history and footprint in the areas of astronomy and astrophysics. For a long time, however, women were not able to work at the HCO. Their journeys and efforts toward equality is evidenced by the observations and journals they left behind.

"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." (Plate Stacks, 2018)

A full timeline of historical events can be found on the Plate Stacks website.

Several of the most well-known female astronomers include: Williamina FlemingAnnie Jump CannonAntonia MauryHenrietta Swan Leavitt and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.