Bestselling author Dava Sobel takes us back to the mid-nineteenth century when the Harvard College Observatory began employing women to help interpret and record observations made by resident astronomers. Initially this group consisted of the wives, sisters, and daughters of the all-male faculty, but by the 1880s the female corps began to include graduates of new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the group began studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. This “glass universe” enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. From Williamina Fleming, originally hired as a maid, who identified ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars to Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, appointed as the first woman professor of astronomy at Harvard in 1956, this group of remarkable women disproved the notion that “the gentler sex” had little to contribute to human knowledge.
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