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Interview of Helen Hogg by Owen Gingerich on 1987 October 25, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/29928-2
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The interview begins with a discussion of Dr. Hogg’s early interest in astronomy and her initial exposure to astronomical research while an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke. The discussion then turns to her working with Harlow Shapley as a graduate student and the move with her husband to Canada in 1931 where she would remain until the time of the interview. While there is some discussion of her research, the primary focus is more on her experiences in Canada and with Shapley, as well as the various administrative positions that Hogg held in scientific organizations. The interview concludes with Hogg sharing additional thoughts about her experiences with Harlow Shapley.
I would like to begin exactly where we left off on the previous interview, where you were telling me something about Shapley's reaction to Trumpler's paper. I gather that was a bolt out of the blue; he hadn't any clue that something like that was coming.
I couldn't be sure of that Owen, I don't think I had any clue whether there had been any correspondence between Trumpler and Shapley before that paper came out. I don't think I could say at this point.
In looking over Trumpler's work, he himself came to this conclusion in a relatively short period of time before that paper was published.
That is true. I don't think I could say whether he would have prepared Shapley for the jolt by writing him and sending him a preprint. We didn't have preprints in those days. There weren't Xerox machines and things, and I don't know of any pre-information that Shapley received, but I could not at this point say that he hadn't had any. Still, I thought that the printed paper, when it came into the library, was a terrific jolt to Shapley.
Well, I can imagine — particularly because of his own book on clusters being in press at the time with a strong statement against interstellar absorption.
Yes. I'm not sure of just where along that book was; as I said in our earlier interview it was not out then and I am not quite certain where it had got to.
Did you help him much with the clusters book?
Oh very much so. And not much acknowledged. A lot of that bibliography was my work, and the tables on various numerical facts of the clusters were from our papers in 1927 or 28 or so in the Bulletins, and in later years — say 10 years after that book came out — the references and the literature are all to Shapley and Star Clusters and very few to Shapley and Sawyer and the Bulletins, which is what happens when you gather them up, you see. A few of the people that knew when I was working on them, they go back to the original references and give me some of the credit.
It's interesting that Cecilia had the same reaction about the book, namely that she had written big sections of it and never had been properly credited. And, indeed, in the manuscript material in the Archives you can see her handwriting in a lot of places.
She did a lot of bibliography too. I guess Cecilia and I did the whole bibliography between us. Don't misunderstand me; we didn't work together on it, but as it was put together, we had used what Bailey had gathered together — I forget in which of his papers was the longest list, 1917, 1921, somewhere in there — there were bibliographies on which I based what I was doing, but I had gathered in a great deal more than that and Cecilia had gathered in a lot. We never collaborated on this but Shapley worked them all together so I would say that 95% of that bibliography was due to the efforts of either Cecilia or me, based on the earlier work of Bailey and the Astronomisches Jahrbuch, which I leaned on — I went through it completely, getting out the globular cluster references.
Now you mention [Solon] Bailey, he was there and obviously much interested in variable stars and globular clusters. How much did you interact with him?
In a basis of hours, not many, but on a basis of pervasive influence, a great deal. Bailey was sort of the father figure over variable stars and globular clusters. He had done so much and he was the ultimate in a gentlemanly figure and always kind and courteous and helpful. The number of hours I spent with him would be very few, except that he came to colloquia. Things like that. I spent more hours with E. S. King because I took a course in photography with him. Also I was invited to the King household more times than to Bailey's. I don't recall much visiting with the Baileys. I think perhaps Mrs. Bailey was not awfully well, but the Kings entertained quite a great deal and Mrs. King was very much of an outpouring and a very warm person to the students.
Because of King's interest in photography, does that mean he was pretty much in charge of the Patrol Program and things like that?
I think he had quite a bit to do with it. Shapley had his hand in that too. I don't believe I could say percentage wise how it broke down, but King gave the course on photographic photometry that I took. But I never did much. I did not run the photographic telescopes at the Observatory. Frank did; Frank took a lot of spectra, and I used the plates that somebody else took.
Well, that was because it wasn't considered the thing for women to do, to be out with the telescopes at night.
No, it was that there were loads of unworked plates on star clusters and especially we wanted the ones from the south and I wasn't in the south. In those days you didn't send a graduate student down to Peru for a couple of weeks to take plates and bring them back. If you went, you went for six months or so.
But at that time there must have been half a dozen telescopes in the yard.
Yes there were. Frank Bowie and Henry Sawyer were the two night assistants.
Well Henry Sawyer was still around when I came. Who was Frank Bowie?
They were full time and alternated their time, so that every night one or the other of them were there, and some of the students or assistants did work with the telescopes. Emma Williams worked with the telescopes. I looked through that 15" a number of times but the plates I took with any of the telescopes in the Observatory yard were minimal, and were only for King's course.
I gather there that there was a 60" Common telescope around on the lower side of the Observatory.
Yes, and Dr. Shapley offered it to me as a program for my doctorate. It was not well figured but it was a good light collector at 60", and so sometime — '27 or '28 — I guess towards the end of my masters degree, he said I could have all the use of that 60" to determine the effect of moonlight on growing plants.
That's a curious proposition.
This I considered for a while. The thing was sitting practically idle. How much did moonlight affect plant growth? "Plant your corn in the dark of the moon," you know this adage or proverb, and so he said this would make a good doctorate thesis. I considered it for awhile, but I rejected it in favor of clusters, but it lingered in my mind. I had heard that adage from early days, because I spent my summers, several of them, in a farm in Vermont and since I grew up in the city of Lowell, I had kind of a rural background here. I loved the countryside and so did my family. And so I figured out that the worth of the adage "Plant your corn in the dark of the moon," came from the fact that it would get up and get sprouted before the spring hoards of crows came to see it. In other words that it wasn't the light of the moon, it was the absence of the light that gave the corn a chance to get started before the spring migration of birds got at it and so I felt that it wasn't so much an astronomical problem as a whole nature problem.
I don't understand exactly what the role of the 60" telescope would have been in such a…
Concentrating the moonlight on boxes of plants.
I see. He felt that it wasn't good for astronomical purposes but might be for botanical.
It hadn't been surfaced well enough. There was a fault on the surface, but it was a good light gatherer. I don't recall just how much planting we were going to do there, but if you had some boxes of plants around and focused the moonlight with the 60", then you would get an enhanced effect of what moonlight would do to plants.
I gather then that apart from such a proposal the telescope wasn't really used astronomically.
Not during the late 1920s, and then something got done to it so it could be used better. Well, of course that mirror went out with the 61" but a new mirror was made when the Oak Ridge Observatory was opened. I forget what the denouncement of all of this was after I left.
At some point during the 1950s Menzel lent the mirror to some optical outfit in Texas and it has totally disappeared. That is to say, the Common mirror, so no one has been able to trace what has happened to it, and of course it is a rather historic piece. Well, that is interesting, I had a feeling that it was unsuccessful as an astronomical instrument. You mentioned using the polar telescope, of course.
Oh, that was wonderful.
Then there must have been the patrol cameras and then those that were used for taking various objective prism plates.
There was an 8" Bache.
That was the IR, I think.
There was the 11".
One of those went to Poland and one to China eventually.
Those were the ones that Frank and Emma used, with his spectrograph on.
At least some of the sheds were still there in the late 1940s. I was wondering how Shapley got on with the older people like King and Bailey.
I am not sure that I am in a position to say. On the surface I would say very well, but I would not be in a position to hear Shapley and Bailey or Shapley and King talk together. It would be in a group and all of them were too polished to argue or show resentment in a group, so I don't really know.
I gather that they didn't interact or collaborate in any very close way on research projects.
Now that you have mentioned it, is there any globular cluster paper by Shapley and Bailey?
I don't remember ever hearing of one, but I can't be sure.
Well until you just brought this up, I never thought of that. Bailey would be sensibly retired by the time I got there. On the other hand retired people still published research papers.
He must have been working on the history of the observatory extensively around that time.
Rather than observations. Maybe he felt he had worked up all the plates he had in the southern hemisphere and that he had finished with his observational program. I could understand that, and as far as I can think was there no Shapley and Bailey paper on globular clusters. Spite of the fact that each of them was outstanding in the world at the time.
I could imagine that there would even have been a bit of rivalry over turf on that score.
Yes, I think so. Of course, I was an absolutely unknown quantity and I had — I don't know how many — 6 or 8 papers with Shapley from 1926 to '30 or '31, and he collaborated with me or vice versa totally amicably. We didn't have any falling outs. I was surprised when he first told me that my name would be on the paper, because I thought as a very junior astronomer I had hardly got to that rank yet. We did collaborate, but Shapley and Bailey no.
Well I can imagine it would have been more difficult for them.
Shapley and King, they were hardly in a field where I would expect them to collaborate. King was making wedges and looking after the instruments and Shapley as Director would leave all that to somebody else, so that I would not expect collaboration between the two of them particularly. But Shapley would be the one who would prompt King to give the course on photometry and photography, so he would be backing King.
There was another instrument question that occurred to me in reading the previous interview; and you mentioned that Luyten was downstairs with the blink. But what was he blinking?
He was blinking, I think, the 14 x 17 A plates.
Was he looking for high proper motions?
Yes, big proper motions.
So this was really an astrometric program?
Yes. I think he picked up variables, too, sometimes in the proper motion survey. This was a proper motion survey that he continued later on in Minnesota.
I knew that was where he had made his mark but…
Yes, that is what he was doing, and we marveled at him, with his eye injury which I mentioned before, that he could do this proper motion work. I did quite a lot of blinking and I found it hard on the eyes.
So was this his own program? He wasn't a graduate student, was he?
He had his doctor's then, I think from Leiden. [Leiden, 1921; Luyten came to Harvard in 1923.] I wouldn't be one hundred percent sure of that, but that is my impression. I know he didn't get it from Harvard and I think he was an employee of the Observatory. Everybody looked up to him because he had such excellent knowledge and training. He was really looked up to, as Cecilia was.
Did he actually do any teaching?
He never taught me. Whether later on he ever gave courses I don't know.
I am going to be very interested to see his biography.
I don't know whether when he first came over whether there would have been a language difficulty with his Dutch accent. I remember it was rather strong in those days and perhaps there was a hesitancy to ask him to give a course. I don't know.
Did Hertzsprung visit while you were there?
Yes. He and Frank became very good friends and I have some correspondence from Hertzsprung to Frank. And when I heard about this gathering of his papers, by the Royal Astronomical Society in London or somewhere, I wondered if I should return the Hertzsprung letters. I am still assembling them — I haven't gotten my files done yet. Whether they should go back there or whether this should go to Harvard or what?
At the very least you should send them Xerox copies because with the modern Xeroxing it’s possible to make copies sometimes that are almost even better than the originals.
Hertzsprung's writing was lovely. Beautiful writing.
I have seen a few of his letters. There are some, of course, in the Shapley archives.
Yes, he was there and very much admired. He and Frank hit it off beautifully and I think Frank visited Hertzsprung in his year as the Parker Traveling Fellow from Harvard.
How long was Hertzsprung at HCO? For a whole year or just visiting?
I can't remember that.
I know there is a picture — I am not sure if it was one that Margaret Harwood took or what. Margaret Harwood must have been around some of the time.
Oh very much so and curiously enough just three days ago a cousin of mine said to me, "What do you think I should do with the diaries and personal papers of Margaret Harwood's father and mother?"
I see. Well I think Margaret Harwood's papers are in the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe.
So if that is the case I would assume that materials like that should go to the Schlesinger Library.. They are making a special collection of women and women's studies.
Well that is a very helpful point. As we got to talking, this man [the husband of Helen's cousin] lived beside Margaret Harwood's parents in Littleton for years. Seventy years ago he was their next door neighbor. He and his wife — his wife was my cousin — they came for lunch with me in Lowell Thursday, and this question startled me. Yes, I was very fond of Margaret Harwood and I knew her from 1920s on and I came back to Cambridge when she had the chore of clearing out her friend's house. This has influenced my life in that I have cleared out one of my houses so my children would not have to give up six months of astronomy to do it, which she did. Do you remember that?
Oh, well this friend of hers lived on Brattle Street in Cambridge. She was, I think, a maiden lady. Her father was very dear to her. They had lived in the same house since 1860 something; there were twelve rooms like many of those big Brattle Street houses, and this lady — whose name eludes me now — in her will left it for Margaret to clear her house. Nothing was to be sold. Everything had to be given away. And nothing except wet garbage had been cleared out of that house since about 1870.
Oh my! Roughly when was this?
This was around 1945 plus or minus several years. And I came to Cambridge then and Margaret showed me around the house and in the third story there was a room where the lady had put newspapers and periodicals. It was a room (it would be only about a quarter the size of this room [the interview room was perhaps 15 x 30 feet]) that you could just open the door about 60' and step that far inside and when you did that, from the floor to the ceiling and wall to wall, were the newspapers and periodicals, left for Margaret to clear out. Most of the woman's best things went to Radcliffe College. There was a clock and there were some almost priceless New England antiques that went to Radcliffe. I think the woman had specified that the best stuff, if anything that Radcliffe would take, they would get. Well, Margaret offered me a beautiful sofa — a Victorian sofa of around 1870 or 180, and I forget whether it was black walnut or mahogany. I paid to ship it to Toronto and had it re-upholstered, and it has been a joy ever since. And when my oldest grandchild got married half a dozen years ago, I gave it to them and they dote on it and they paid a $1,000 to have it re-upholstered. And in the hall was a coat rack. Now the woman's father had died about 1910 or so and ever since his hat was on that coat rack, and of course if a stranger came to the door they saw the man's hat in the hall and that was her protection.
I see. Now in the 1920s Margaret was around — she wasn't a graduate student was she?
She had a Master's, but she never went for a Doctor's, but I think it was — as recall — about 1925. That was the date on that beautiful long exposure she took down in Peru of the Southern Milky Way, which was a classic photograph for decades until the faster cameras got going. You know of that picture?
No, I didn't associate it with her…
Somehow the date 1925 lingers on in my mind for that one, but don't trust it, it could be a little one way or another. And she went down and this was one of the small cameras and after she worked all night she realized she wanted to make it longer than the 8 hours that she had. She had to cover the camera so that she could go on with it the next night. She looked around for cloths and got something, but not quite enough to do, so she did what seemed to her the only thing. In those days in the 1920s some of the ladies wore abundant petticoats. So Margaret took off her petticoat and wrapped it around the telescope to keep the light out. The exposure, the picture, came out beautifully. We showed it over and over and over. And Margaret herself was the person who named it. The Southern Cross was in it, I think or perhaps the Sagittarius clouds. I haven't seen that one for some years now. Anyway, she named that picture: Margaret Harwood's Long Exposure. [Plate of Coal Sack region, 1923 May 12-18.]
I see. I will try to find that picture because it might be an interesting one for illustrating the Milky Way chapter in the General History of Astronomy.
Yes and it shows also what women can do. You mentioned women; this is a woman.
Well I knew of course that Annie Cannon had also been down in Peru.
Oh yes, and she brought back beautiful silver pieces from Peru. To have a tea at her Star Cottage she would bring all these out, these lovely Peruvian hand-worked silver spoons and silver this and that. She delighted on household ornaments or household utensils.
I had been told that both Annie Cannon and Solon Bailey had gone to Peru when Shapley first came. Sort of as a way to get out from under foot and to give the new director a free hand without their looking out over his shoulder all the time.
Oh, well, that would be about four years before I arrived on the scene and I wouldn't be conscious of that as a graduate student. As a very young grad, a piece of information like that wouldn't trickle through to me.
I am not sure where I heard it.
But it is quite possible. Yes … Both of them, that is just the type of thing they would do, because they were both quite conscious of other people's feelings and both so courteous and considerate. Miss Canon unusually so. She was remarkable.
Was Margaret Harwood associated with Nantucket already at that time?
Yes, I think so. I am not sure just when she started there. I associated her with summers at Nantucket and winters up at Harvard.
I will check in the record some time and see how long it was that she went down to Peru. She had done that just before you came.
I think so.
Tell me about some of the other visitors that you remember coming to either speak or to be in residence for a while.
Well, let me see … Rosseland came. He was quiet and very cheerful, very quiet, quite different from [Gerasamovich] that way. Ten Bruggencate came on clusters, and that was about when he was doing his book on clusters in German. I forget the date on that now. I have a copy but I haven't had occasion to look back at that for many years. I still go back to Shapley's Star Clusters for information, but Ten Bruggencate Sternhaufen, I don't go back to. And I don't think it is just the language either, I think it is just that Shapley's Star Clusters managed to contain so much information that it is still useful. Let's see, after Ten Bruggencate, who was some of the others — he was quiet too and not so much on English as I recall, so that it wasn't as easy to speak with him as some of the others and, let’s see, J.S. Plaskett, I don't think he came to Harvard, I am not sure.
What English people?
That is what I was trying to think. Sir Frank Dyson. I met him out in Victoria. He was the one that went round the world telling about my baby in the telescope. And I don't think he was here at Harvard, I don't think I had met him till 1932 in Victoria. They had the Pacific Science Congress, and the British Astronomical Association came out with them, and it was a big do in Victoria in '32 and I met a lot of the English people then. I am just trying in my mind to figure if I had met any of them here at Harvard before.
They must have come through for the IAU meeting, which was '32.
And I was out West for that.
Then some of them must have gone on to the West.
I remember Goddard, though he was not a distant visitor. He came to give colloquia here about his rockets and I realized then, from hearing him talk, that I was being introduced to the future. He was very dynamic. Did you ever hear him talk?
No. Did he come to the Observatory?
Yes, he did and gave colloquia. And there was one particular Story that he told about his rockets that I have always remembered, because I learned something special from it. He had, it was only a few month or so earlier, set off one of his rockets out near Worcester or somewhere and he said after the rocket went off, in a matter of a minute or two a reporter came up to him, and Goddard said, "But how did you get here so soon, I hadn't publicized my rocket; how did you manage to get on the scene?" And the reporter said, "Oh, we're the ones that always follow the ambulance." So somehow, someone instantly called an ambulance when the thing went off. This was a kind of terrifying when I think about it, that the reporter followed the ambulance and had arrived momentarily afterwards!
Duncan was somebody who was even closer.
Oh yes, he came and he was the word suave. I guess somehow Duncan more than anybody else brings that particular word to my mind. He was very suave and very likable too, and he was doing his textbooks and well known that way.
He, of course, had been out at Mt. Wilson. Shapley should have known him from there.
Oh, yes, and very distinguished and he carried about an aura of distinction with him and he was very smooth in everything; he didn't get perturbed and he gave nice talks at the Observatory. I forget now what he talked about, but he came, he was one of the ones. Schlesinger came up from Yale. I think I heard him here, I know I heard him down at Yale. It was at the Yale AAS meeting in December '27 that I really got deep into astronomy. I joined the AAS. I have been in for 60 years and unlike many organizations that I belong to, the AAS doesn't give a hoot about 50-year members or 60-year members or 80-year members or 100-year members.
Isn't there a time when you get your journals free or something like that?
There isn't a time when they even send you a letter saying we appreciate you as a 50-year member. It isn't the case in my mind of getting things free, it is the case that somebody is interested that you are a 50-year member.
What I suspect is that there has been the passage of so many secretaries that the records simply don't easily contain this information.
I think you are absolutely right, Owen. But from the IAU before the Delhi meetings, I had a couple of letters from the General Secretary saying, "We hope you will be coming because you were among the top 8 in seniority in the IAU with 5,000 members," and I am in the top 8. I am hoping to go to Baltimore, even though I am allergic to heat.
It will all be contained within a very large air conditioned structure.
I am delighted to hear that.
So have no hesitation about going there.
All the discomforts of the airports getting there. I am delighted, you couldn't tell me anything better.
You practically have covered walkways from the hotel there. Not quite, but one has to be out in the heat very little. That is a reason we chose it — it is very congenial kind of setup so that all of the meeting rooms are contained within this one large, rather beautiful, conference center.
Well, then the IAU sent me special covers with the special stamps from India as an appreciation of my long term, etc.; well, considering all the countries involved, the languages and everything else, I think that is wonderful for the IAU to do this and I don't see much excuse for the AAS, you know not to be doing something along that line.
I will draw that to the attention of the Secretary.
Not just for me but for everybody else.
We are just about at the end of this side of the tape and so I am going to check it to make sure that it has been taking properly and we can have a five minute recess or something, you can walk around or whatever. Do you want to put in where we are?
Yes, 36 Dunbarton Road, Belmont, the home of Mrs. Harold Hazen (Catherine Hazen) my classmate at Mount Holyoke, Class of ‘26 and she has done a great deal of looking after all of the class ever since and she is Martha Hazen's mother.
All right, that sets the locale, and so we will continue thinking about Harvard Observatory in times past. You came back in 1952. Was it to teach in the summer school?
Yes. Dr. Shapley asked me back and he was the one that directly asked if I would come back to teach. I think there were two reasons for that: 1) Frank had died the year before and 2) Shapley was retiring that year and I think he had always been fond of me and I think really psychologically maybe he wanted to throw back, you know, to the past then. Because I was really his first graduate student and in his field.
Did you see much of him during that summer.
Quite a bit, yes. But not as much as when I worked with him in research. We were not doing any research piece that summer; but yes, I did see him a good many times really. And he was sad at retiring as you know.
I know that Bart Bok told me that Shapley had been extremely disappointed at not having been elected President of the IAU and Bart felt that he would have developed his own interests much better if he had gone off and become head of UNESCO, rather than continuing with the Observatory at that particular time.
Well, he didn't discuss that aspect with me, nor did he discuss any disappointment with the IAU that I remember.
I imagine that that was something that Bok would have sort of sensed, being very close to him at that time, and it would have hardly gone beyond that.
I think he was tremendously disappointed that Bok did not become the Director.
Well, that was of course the case also with the graduate students, who were virtually unanimous in supporting Bok for the directorship. It is difficult to know exactly what all went on but in part, I think Bok had been offered the directorship someplace else and had been told by Shapley. "No, stay here because you are the logical successor." So there was a lot of hard feeling as a result of that.
Yes, my impression that summer was that Shapley's worries were more about what was going to happen to the Observatory in the future than other things. That IAU aspect, I don't recall.
Well that would probably have been some few years earlier.
What kept him from the IAU?
I guess they appointed Struve, because Struve had command of Russian as well as English, among other things, and therefore in some way could function in pulling things back together again.
Shapley was not proficient in speaking foreign languages much, was he?
I think he controlled German fairly well, but I am not sure if he spoke it. His wife was of course very good in German.
Yes, wonderful, and I meant to look out that leaflet that Martha Shapley's sister wrote that I mentioned to you that I got from Amelia Wehlau, and also I had correspondence with Miss Betz over that and you should have a copy of that because it refers to Harlow coming into their family, etc.
At that time, when you came back, Shapley was very much hounded by Senator McCarthy. Did he have occasion to talk about that or did you sense that was sort of a cloud?
He didn't talk about that. There were vague references that he made to people after more things like that but I don't think I was ever given any specific details that would be of interest.
Having mentioned Martha Betz Shapley, how much was she in evidence back in the twenties when you were a graduate student?
Well quite a lot, of course, for all the parties and then I especially remember when Carl was a little baby. He was the last and he was born while I was at the Observatory and she was taking a course. I don't remember which course it was; it was one that I was at, too, in the mornings at the Observatory. Carl developed an infection, pneumonia or something, and Martha was up all night with him nursing him and she came to the course in the morning looking so tired and weary. I just remember feeling so sorry for her that she had this big load to carry of her family and a little baby being ill and yet determined to come to the course.
So she was keeping a finger in astronomy a bit despite raising the family.
Oh I would say more than a little bit because I think that Harlow was discussing things with her around the edges of his long days too. Oh I think she was more than a little bit in it and she carried a terrific load for these big observatory parties and refreshments and all. She wasn't a breezy hostess, if you know what I mean, but a very gentle and pleasant one and looking after a guest, and so on.
These Observatory parties were generally in the residence itself.
Yes, as far as I know, always in the residence.
Was square dancing a feature of them in those days?
I don't remember it.
What about ballroom dancing?
There were various games that we played. Some word games, there was music. I don't think it was square dancing. Or was there some square dancing?
The Virginia Reel, at least in later years, was almost a characteristic in the parties.
I hadn't thought of the Virginia Reel, maybe it was there. There were music and games and very interesting conversation and things to see. Dr. Shapley would talk about his ants a bit. He loved to talk about ants and I learned then that you could tell the temperature of the day by measuring the speed of the ant, et cetera. Once they issued a party invitation they wanted everybody to come, regardless of what you might have been planning to do that night.
I know that later on the parties were generally scheduled on the full moon on the grounds that you couldn't take satisfactory plates that night anyway.
Oh. I don't recall any full moon tie-in; maybe there was one that I missed, I mean maybe the tie-in with the full moon was there and I didn't realize it, but it was more when some visitor came to town or something of that sort.
Well that could hardly be controlled with respect to the lunar phases.
No. And of course we had rehearsals for the Pinafore, the Observatory Pinafore..
I was wondering if that wasn't during your time.
Oh, I was the producer. We were mentioning Star Clusters. This was another thing for which Dr. Shapley quietly took most of the credit, and I did a lot, an awful lot of the work, because I had had theatricals at Lowell High School with a very fine teacher and I had had two or three years of the high school theatricals and got used to everything about them. So it was one day, I guess it was after Frank went to Europe—maybe in the fall of 29 — that Shapley called me into his office and he said somebody has unearthed this manuscript, HMS Pinafore and take a look at it and do you think it could be produced? And so I took a look at it, I forget whether I looked while he sat in his office or whether I took it away and brought it back, but I said "yes, it could be done," and he said, "All right, then you line people up." So we worked out together who would be good at different parts. We knew the voices. Yes it must have been the fall of 29 because Peter Milmann didn't come until about then and...
And Bart Bok was in it too.
Yes he had a fine voice and Cecilia, of course, had a wonderful voice and so we assigned parts and I was in the chorus. I don't sing much, but in those days I could keep in tune with other people, which I hope I did. So I assembled the different people and we started in having rehearsals and it really made astronomical history in a long run that Christmastime meeting of the AAS in '29-'30.
And then you did it again for the Bond Club in January.
I guess so. I had forgotten that part. Yes, that was the first one that I remembered and there is an incident that I remember about it that I won't put on tape, but I will tell you. [Tells OG off tape about observer Bowie]. That was about the only hitch that I remember in the thing.
I remember seeing Bart Bok in the picture as well as Peter Milmann — they must have both just come at about that time.
They came after the '29 IAU. Yes, that is where Priscilla and Bart met, in Holland at the '29 IAU. He came over just devoted to Priscilla. They invited me to dinner in their apartment and oh, my, his devotion to Priscilla right from the minute he arrived that I ever saw them was really quite outstanding. Very refreshing, a little different from the Bowie's setup.
So I know that Bart was working on his thesis although he refused to have a degree at Harvard, because he felt it was necessary to go back with van Rijn who had been part of this tradition from Kapteyn.
Oh yes, I had forgotten that.
So I gather he was sort of an extra-mural graduate student at that time, but was he beginning to teach a course as well?
That was just at the end of my time here so I don't remember much. My last work here was really was when I handed in my thesis at the end of May 1930, and then Frank and I were married in September and moved out to Amherst and Mount Holyoke, so from May 1930 on I was only loosely connected here.
Now Dr. Menzel had come apparently a matter of some weeks earlier then Bok had?
Yes and I don't remember a great deal about… He was working on the sun. Bok was toward the Milky Way which is more toward me, but Menzel was sun, and that was totally separate, really, and I don't have a great memory of Menzel in those days.
When Menzel was appointed acting director after Shapley left, the word that came to the graduate students was how it had to be done because he had seniority having arrived six weeks before Bart had, and we all thought it was singularly unjust because it was such a short interval to make that difference. Of course we were all quite naive at the time, and I realize now in thinking about it, that the people who were in charge at Harvard including President Conant, etc., had been heavily involved in government war work in one fashion or another and realized that the route to growth in the sciences was to get government support. Bok, like Shapley, had always been extremely suspicious of this kind of government involvement. I am sure the people at University Hall just felt philosophically much more akin to Menzel's outlook on what to do next than Bart's. So I am sure that they just felt a great deal more comfortable appointing Menzel than Bok, but of course Bok was the one who had always taken such a strong interest in the graduate students that this is why there is a lot of dissatisfaction among that particular population, which was a powerless population in terms of the structure of things.
Yes, I can see how that would be. I felt that Shapley in that summer of '52 was fearing his retirement very keenly, and people do fear retirements keenly, but I would say he was more than average.
On the other hand he made an absolute break, in that he didn't do anything to influence the policy of the Observatory. He didn't meddle in it; he gave a free hand to his successors. It was not known what opinions he had. He must have had strong opinions about what was going on but he certainly didn't do anything about it.
He did have very strong principles that a lot of people who had retired but stayed in the wings had really been spoilers for their successors and he was determined not to do that, but I remember bringing a visitor in at some point soon after that and introducing the visitor to Dr. Shapley, but Dr. Shapley was very resistant to inviting this person to his office. I think he felt it was so small and so unfitting for somebody who had had the grand office and the rotating desk and everything, that he simply wasn't even going to let the person see what arrangements he then had [a small back room in the north-east corner of building C, third floor]. But otherwise he was certainly around the observatory and would come and give guest lectures and things like that. He did a lot of lecturing and a lot of traveling to other schools as a lecturer after he retired. You had at one time talked to me about Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin's autobiography, but we didn't talk about this on the tape at all. I would be interested to have just some of that recorded if you are willing.
Well, I should look at it because it is several years ago now that that came out and I have not looked at that very recently, but it did not give a balanced picture of the Harvard Observatory at least in the years that I was there. Cecilia had very strong likes and dislikes and these came out in the book. One of the things that I pointed out in my review was her really derogatory attitude toward Bart Bok. As I recall, she had one mention of him and that was as a family man, how at some point in her troubles Bart and his family helped her and that was it. No mention of Bart and the Milky Way and this and that, and that Bart ever did anything for the Observatory. I did, as you recall, the review for Physics Today, where I pointed this out; and there was no mention of Margaret Mayall, with this sole exception of a caption and a photograph with six or eight people and one of the names down for a head was Margaret Mayall, and that was despite the fact that Cecilia had quite wordy reference to Miss Cannon. In those days of late 1920s and through the 130s Miss Cannon leaned very heavily on Margaret. Margaret Mayall did so much for her that to me the two names were almost inseparable from about 1925 to 1940. Miss Cannon died in May, end of May or early June, early June, I think it was, 1941. Margaret helped her with Star Cottage entertainment and things and she helped her errands and she helped her in so many ways, in addition to all the work Margaret did on the Henry Draper. So when Cecilia talks about Miss Cannon, and no mention of Margaret, that is a distortion of the Observatory from 1925 to '41 roughly.
She also must have had a very complicated love-hate relation with Shapley.
Oh very much so, very much so. I didn't quite realize it at the time, but I do now on retrospect how much she would resent me and the hours that Shapley would spend with me because I was his graduate student in his field and before that he had spent those hours with Cecilia who was the first graduate student going for a doctorate there. Shapley spent very, very few hours with Frank for the reason that Shapley was not a spectroscopist (as you know) and Cecilia was, and so Frank and Cecilia were the student and the teacher pair from '26 through '29 and so Cecilia had no reason to be jealous of Frank and Shapley because there was only a fairly superficial relationship there. But I displaced Cecilia and, yes, Cecilia seemed to like me as a person, but I think she was also very, very jealous of me. I forget whether I am ever mentioned in her biography or not, I have forgotten that factor. There is one place where she said she knew she was superior to the people that Shapley was spending his time with and that was an anonymous hit at me definitely. But for more detail I would have needed to have glanced through that because I don't think I have looked at that now for a couple of years.
I was going to bring it along this morning and then I forgot.
I was in correspondence with Katherine, Cecilia's daughter. But after my review that came out in Physics Today, I never heard from her, so I sense that Katherine didn't entirely like it.
Katherine is very protective of her mother's reputation and …
It must have been a very hard job for Katherine to do, I think.
Chuck Whitney had gone through the manuscript and had made a very detailed index to the many literary illusions which are in it which most readers will just pass by, but Katherine would have none of this tampering with the manuscript and refused even to publish this as notes to it. She was very protective that nobody was going to alter this, or so on.
Well that was one problem now with the book that the index covered only a certain portion of it and not a lot of it. The index did not cover the whole book and so where there were references to some of the Observatory people in some of the other sections, that other people wrote, these were not included in the index, which various of my scientific friends who saw the book felt was a real fault.
I don't remember, but I don't think in your Physics Today review you commented all that specifically about Cecelia and her lack of advancement as an astrophysicist. I think you indicated that there might have been more complex issues at stake including her own temperament.
Yes, she blamed (and in the book too) her lack of promotion at Harvard on the fact that she was a women, not a man. My impression is, now I can't say how different it would have been had she been a man, but I think her disposition must have come into this because when I think back to the way she behaved in the late 1920s around that Observatory, I would shudder at the thought of her being the director of an observatory like Maria Mitchel or Mount Holyoke or whatever, even a small observatory and heaven forbid a big one, because you didn't know where you stood with her, she was so up and down and inflammable, you might say. As an observatory director, whether or not it was a man or a women behaving that way, you wouldn't want it, you need stability and in the 1920s Cecilia did not have it. I think after she married Sergei, she gained a considerable amount of stability, but I was not around Harvard very much so that my comparison is not a very good one. My impression is that her marriage and her children did give her a certain amount of stability in her life that she didn't have when she was unmarried, but also I do not see how you could have given her a position of observatory director, say. In my way of thinking, observatory directors don't behave the way she was behaving in the 1920s. They have a great deal to put up with, they have a great many annoyances and disappointments, and they are very hard working, they have long hours and they simply have got to keep of an even keel if they are going to do it.
Now there were two very important astronomical discoveries that came in around the time when you were a graduate student and I would like to just ask how aware were you of these discoveries and of their importance. The one was certainly the rotation of our galaxy, which was being done by Lindblad and Oort.
Not much until I got to Victoria, and plus of course Plaskett and Pierce had the observations.
Yes, of course.
How much I was aware of that at Harvard, certainly not very strongly, nothing like how much I was aware of absorption of light.
The other one was the concept that the universe was made primarily of hydrogen. Now in some way this had been implied in Cecilia Payne's thesis but she had been talked out of it by Russell and probably by Shapley and others, and then during that time Russell then published a paper that said yes, hydrogen is the most abundant component.
Yes, I think I was aware of that through the Harvard days.
Probably Russell would have come and talked about it.
Yes, I think so. He came a number of times; we certainly put him on a pedestal. We all looked up to him and his rapid fire talk. We would say after a colloquium, "My mind can't work as fast as he talks, just zip like that." Yes, I think I was aware of hydrogen through the 1920s, as the thing that the universe was made of.
But now in thinking back you would have associated that discovery with Henry Norris Russell.
Yes, more than with Cecilia.
Well, I thought about this particularly because of the Robert Kirshner's talk, which we heard last night, about who discovered the supernova in the large Magellanic Cloud. Whether it was Shelton or the other man, whose name I don't remember, who was the local Chilean and he apparently saw it first, but didn't realize quite what he had. I know that in the last episode of the television series that Philip Morrison has just begun, he has some re-enactment of Cecilia and has Katherine Haramundanus reading some of her text.
That is what they asked me about, what I knew about Cecilia. I didn't give them unpleasant things.
But he would have us believe that essentially she should be credited with this discovery, having got it in the numbers in her thesis. But she really didn't know that she had it, that that is the right abundance of hydrogen. It is very difficult, I think, and my reading of it is that she was fully accepting the arguments against it and therefore didn't have that as her discovery even though she had made those calculations in her thesis.
Yes it is a very interesting point, isn't it.
Because everybody at that time believed in the uniformity of the universe and therefore assumed that the sun should be similar in composition to the earth and so this was the basis of Eddington's making stars primarily out of iron and so on.
We looked up to her very much. We didn't call her Cecilia, we called her Miss Payne and that to me in retrospect has been interesting, because we never, never called Dr. Shapley Mr. Shapley and yet she had a doctor's degree but we didn't call her Dr. Payne, we called her Miss Payne.
I know everybody to the end of his life called him Dr. Shapley
Even Russell, Russell who was on more familiar terms always called him Shapley, but never a first-name basis.
No, no. And so there was this women separation to call Cecilia Miss Payne and not Dr. Payne. She had as much of a doctor’s degree as Shapley did and Shapley, I don't think he ever called me Helen. Now Mrs. Shapley had called me Helen, but not Dr. Shapley, and I never called him Harlow to his face.
I can imagine. Well I think this has filled in lots of very interesting details, I will get this one transcribed as well and send it up to you to correct.
I wish you luck.
I am sure that Irwin Shapiro will be very keen to read it and he will of course come up with all sorts of questions I should have asked and didn't think about, so then we will see what to do.