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Cosmic Musings Lecture and Book-signing - The Women Who Took the Measure of the Stars - Dava Sobel
November 2nd, 2017 7:30pm
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Cosmic Musings Lecture Series Presented by United Airlines



In her latest book, The Glass Universe, 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.


TOP LEFT IMAGE “Margaret Harwood sat on the floor for this posed tableau taken on May 19, 1925. Harvia Wilson is at far left, sharing a table with Annie Cannon (too busy to look up) and Antonia Muary (left foreground). The woman at the drafting table is Cecila Payne. Credit: Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives. | TOP RIGHT IMAGE: “Antonia Maury installed a 6-inch Clark telescope at the old Draper homestead in Hastings-on-Hudson. She intended it for the edification of local residents, especially children.” Credit: Courtesy of Hastings Historical Society, New York.



“The 1929 New Year’s Eve performance of The Observatory Pinafore featured (from left to right) Peter Millman; Cecelia Payne as Josephine; Henriette Swope, Mildred Shapley, Helen Sawyer, Sylvia Mussells, and Adelaide Ames as the computer chorus; and Leon Campbell in the role of Professor Searle.” Credit: Courtesy of Charles Reynes.


Dava Sobel is the author of five books, including the New York Times bestsellers Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, The Planets, and The Glass Universe. A former New York Times science reporter and longtime contributor to The New Yorker, Audubon, Discover, and Harvard Magazine, she is the recipient of the National Science Board’s Individual Public Service Award and the Boston Museum of Science’s Bradford Washburn Award, among others. Photo credit: Mia Berg.


Check-in and the Café at the End of the Universe open at 6:00 p.m. The Observatory will be open to the general public. The Stellar Emporium will be open and selling books. The presentation begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater.




Reservations are required. In the case of sold out shows, any tickets not picked up by 7:40 p.m. will be made available to wait-listed guests. No refunds are available. RSVP deadline is NOVEMBER 2, 4:00 p.m.


If your membership has lapsed or you would like to become a new FOTO member, renew or join easily on-line at If you have any questions please send an email to Marc Meehan at or call 213.473.0879 about joining/renewing.



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