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Interview of Margaret Russell Edmondson by David DeVorkin on 1977 April 21,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Daughter of astronomer Henry Norris Russell, recalls her early life at home in Princeton and her family history. Father's personal and professional life, his character, acquaintances, and relationships.
I am Margaret Russell Edmondson, the youngest of the Russell family. I had two sisters and a brother.
You've already given me some information, then. What were the earliest impressions of your father and mother?
Well, probably my earliest impression of my father is one of these early vignettes. I must have been very small, because I remember going up to the corner to meet him, when he was coming home from the office, and walking back with him, down the block, and reaching up over my head to hold one finger, and thinking that finger was so enormous. So I couldn't have been much more than two years old. This is one of these tiny, little vignettes. Of course, he was a tower of strength, as you can imagine. It's very difficult to say, what are one's early impressions.
Incidentally, another very interesting, one of these types of vignettes — when I was in the hospital with this leg, (I was knocked down by a car and I was in the hospital all winter) with a broken knee, which healed permanently stiff.
When was this?
This was in 1954. Just after the surgery, I was running a very high fever, and they had the crib sides up on the bed in the hospital, and I was in sort of a delirium, I guess. But the crib sides must have been the thing that triggered it, because all of a sudden, I was back in my crib in Princeton, and it was complete, it was total. I could see the gas light through the crack in the door, and my parents were there, the way they looked then, not the way you try to reconstruct them. It was a very interesting phenomenon. And it's something that you couldn't dredge up if you tried. But apparently, the trigger mechanism was the crib sides. It was a very interesting phenomenon.
But it's very hard to say. I mean, your parents are always there. They're a tower of strength, as I said.
We were a very busy family — there were four children within three years. One of my sisters was an invalid. She was born with cerebral palsy. One of the twins. And so there were always not only my parents, but the invalid one, Elizabeth, had a companion, and we had a governess. And there was a cook and two maids and a laundress, so the household was overflowing with people — besides relatives, you know. And my great-aunt lived two doors up the street.
This was Alexander Street?
Oh yes. That was the family home, the house was built in 1854, and my great-grandfather bought it in 1870.
So it was a very busy household. But Dad and Mother both were very fond of children. Dad particularly loved small children. He absolutely adored little children. Even now, you can find definitely mature people who were children of astronomers, who still talk about the paper birds and animals he used to make for them. The last time I saw Lady Spencer-Jones, she was saying her son still remembered those paper animals that Dad used to make for him when he was a little boy.
Are there any pictures of these?
I've got a couple of them. And I've also got a few which his aunt made, a little box of them. I'm not sure where they are, but I've got a couple upstairs.
Were these Origami?
Yes. And when he was at graduate school meetings, he used to amuse himself and keep his fingers busy during the meeting making these things. And Sarah Neher Sykes, who was the secretary of the graduate school, used to collect them up afterwards and take them home. She was secretary of the graduate school for many many years. She told me one time, she used to collect them up and take them home afterwards.
But he was known all over the world, among astronomers, for these things he used to make for the kids. And he just loved small children.
Well, one of the things that was very typical — of course, during the week he was, over at the observatory all day — but on Sunday, in the afternoon, if the weather was halfway decent, we went out for a drive. We had a horse and buggy until 1929 — at least a buggy first, then later a surrey. And we only gave that up when the horse died of sunstroke when we were in Europe in 1930.
So we would drive out in the country. He loved the countryside, and knew an enormous amount about flowers and trees and animals — well, just about everything in the natural world. He had favorite woods we'd go to, for different kinds of flowers. So the whole family would go driving Sunday afternoon.
Then later in the afternoon, or if the weather was bad and we couldn't go driving, he had Belgian building blocks, which he had scrimped and saved to buy from his own small savings, as a child, with which he built houses and bridges and such like. He had all these patterns that had been worked up. He had done them originally, most of them. He had drawn on draft paper so we could do them again, and sometimes we'd just build, but mostly we would say we wanted the bridge or something. There were three different boxes, and they were assigned, one to each child, and we would get the proper blocks out. We were allowed to build them sometimes. My sister has the blocks now — this is Lucy.
Elizabeth was Lucy's twin?
Twin, yes. And she died in 1967. The other thing which was typical of Sunday afternoon was Bible readings. Dad read beautifully. I think I wrote to you about that. He would read, mostly from the Old Testament, actually, though sometimes from the New Testament, to the whole family. Then we'd talk about it.
As I told you, he was really very early in this business of the different manuscripts, different sources from the Old Testament. He used to talk about this, so that we got a great deal of education in this way, as well as the religious point of view. He was a very religious man. His father was a minister and his grandfather was a minister and his brother a minister, all Presbyterians. He was a devout Presbyterian. My mother was a devout Episcopalian. Neither of them ever changed their affiliations, and so we alternated. One week we went to one church, the next week we went to the other, with occasional breaks to go to the University Chapel.
So much so that at one time, the Episcopal Church asked him to become a vestryman, and he said, "Well, I'd be delighted to, but I'm a member of the Presbyterian Church."
They said, "That doesn't matter, we'd like to have you anyway," but he said, well, no, he was an elder of the Presbyterian Church, he thought he wouldn't split that up.
So we were brought up to go to two different Protestant churches.
What were his favorite passages out of the Old Testament?
It's a little hard to say, but he loved poetry and he read the Psalms beautifully. He read the Song of Solomon beautifully. Of course, he could recite poetry beautifully, hour upon hour. He loved Browning, and most of the poets of that period. And since he had a photographic memory, he didn't have to have the book. He could recite for hours if he wanted to. But he read poetry beautifully too. That was another of his favorite occupations. He loved to read, for his own pleasure, but also he loved to read aloud. I think this had started when he was school age. He lived with his aunt in this same house. He came to Princeton from Oyster Bay [where he was born] at the age of 12 to attend Prep School. He had outgrown the dame's school he went to, a one-room school with a score of pupils taught by a single lady school teacher. He needed more challenging education. This was obvious very, very early, that he was a genius, you know.
His maiden aunt lived in the family home, and so he went to Princeton Prep School when he was 12, and he entered Princeton before he was 16. Is that right? He graduated when he was 19.
He and his aunt used to read aloud together. The two of them were in the household together all the years he was in Princeton Prep School and when he was at college, and they used to read together. He used to do his French and German and what not. They did a great deal of reading aloud.
I've read a little paper that he gave in 1954, a symposium or informal colloquium at Princeton where he recalls his life. Dr. Spitzer gave that to me. I don't know if you have seen this or not?
No, I think probably not.
Well, he [H.N.R.] indicates that he was, of course, born in Oyster Bay, and this agrees with what I've read in the various appreciations. But he says that he moved to Princeton at the age of eight weeks. Did he make a move at eight weeks but not necessarily to Princeton?
That was Christmas time. He was born in October, and his first trip to Princeton was when he was eight weeks old, when he came to visit his grandparents at Christmas time.
OK, then he was in Oyster Bay at the dame's school?
He lived in Oyster Bay until he was 12. His family continued to live there, and he went back for vacations, but he was sent to live with his aunt for educational reasons, because he went to Princeton Preparatory School. And then, he went to Princeton and went through graduate school, and continued to live with his aunt. And when his brothers got to be college age, they came and lived with their aunt and went to Princeton. Then, after Mother and Dad got married, Auntie moved out for a year and a half. She wasn't about to have her Henry put out of his house.
Did she move to a local address?
I'm not quite sure where she went. She went on a trip and I think she had an apartment. I'm not sure about that. I know she went on a long trip with her best friend. I don't think she was in Princeton. I think she was in Atlantic City or some such place, for a while, till Mother invited her back. The third floor then was made over into an apartment for her, and she lived there until she died, just before I was born in 1914.
What was her name and what side of the family was she?
His mother's sister. Her name was Ada Louise Norris.
OK, that's very helpful.
That was his first visit to Princeton. That was the Christmas after he was born. He came to visit his grandparents, and I have some pictures — I think one of them is in the group I have here of his grandparents, and he and his second brother, and two cousins, all sitting on the porch in Princeton, looking very sedate with their grandparents.
Are there any letters from your father to your grandparents, that might exist, while he was at Princeton Prep living with his aunt?
If so, I don't know of any. His mother might have kept that sort of thing. But since he didn't live in Oyster Bay except in the summertime, and since he was in Europe when his mother died in 1906, he was a postdoc at Cambridge, that sort of thing would not have come to Princeton anyway. His father remarried, a childhood sweetheart, and unfortunately she died less than a year later. Aunt Sarah was a lovely person. Her last name, I have forgotten, but she was a childhood sweetheart and she was a widow, and she was Canadian.
So your grandfather stayed in Oyster Bay all his life?
Well, no. He was born in Nova Scotia. But he came to Princeton to go to Princeton Theological Seminary. He graduated from Halifax, from Dalhousie College and came to Princeton, to go to Princeton Theological Seminary. And guess what, he roomed with the Norrises, a block from Princeton Theological Seminary, and after a while he married Miss Norris. Hm mm.
His first post was in Oyster Bay, and the salary of the minister was $1200 a year, but the country was in hard times so he took a cut to $1000 a year, and the people at Oyster Bay never raised his salary as long as he lived. He got $1000 a year. Luckily my grandmother had a small amount of her own. Impecunious ministers.
At Princeton, then, the Norrises were there for quite some time.
Well, my great-grandfather came there when he retired. He was a businessman, and just before he came back to Princeton, he had been manager of the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh.
Well, going back early in the 19th century, his father was one of a long line of sea captains from Salem, Massachusetts, and he died at the age of 29, of yellow fever in the West Indies and was buried in Nevis, leaving his widow and several children including my great — grandfather [who] was the oldest of the family but he was a child [then] — I think something like 10 or 12. Later his mother remarried Old Pa Churchill, whose first name I don't remember.
Old Pa Churchill?
That's what they called him. His last name was Churchill. And she had children. He had children. And eventually they had children. And the kind of stories that Dad would tell, that Old Pa Churchill called up the stairs one day, "My dear, your children and my children are fighting with our child. Please come and do something about it."
Well, eventually they grew up. It was a big household, I don't know how many people. But one of his friends came to him one day and said, "Do you know if anybody is courting your sister Sarah, because I'd like to address my suit to her. I haven't seen anybody courting her."
And so my great-grandfather had to admit rather sheepishly that she was engaged to him. But she didn't live very many years after they were married. She died in childbirth. And so my great-grandmother was his second wife.
Anyway, that was when he was growing up. But as a young man he moved to New York, and had to support himself. Old Pa Churchill must have died by then. He worked in a drug store, as a pharmacist, and was there during the last great cholera epidemic, so he knew what to do when he got cholera himself, which he survived. Then he developed tuberculosis, and went to Brazil for his health. At that time northern Brazil was a very healthy area. This was before the slaves had brought the yellow fever and smallpox in from Africa. He recovered and did very nicely, and discovered that there were fine business opportunities there. He went back to New York and he was married the first time. They were in the trading business, trading with Brazil primarily, the ship-owners, you know. After his second marriage, they were living in Brazil, and he was American consul in what is now Belem. It was called Para at that time. And my grandmother was born there.
Apparently he was interested in lots of scientific type things.
He was the one who tried out Foucault's experiment?
Yes. And they had a real menagerie. He was interested in animals and birds, and what have you. They had pet monkeys. The monkey would play with the laundry when it was on the line, and get little dirty paw prints on it, so he had a little air gun that he loaded with rice, for collecting humming birds, for the skins, and so he had this rice gun. And one day the monkey had its fingers on the line, so he shot him with the rice, and the monkey considered the problem, turned the laundry around this way, so he couldn't be hit with the rice.
Very intelligent monkey, yes. He also had a baby jaguar, which in the course of time grew up to be a large jaguar, and could no longer be allowed the run of the house, and was kept in a cage down below. But one day he broke out of the cage, and was met coming up the stairs by the butler, and Ramon took his life in his hands and cuffed him over the nose, and told him to go back downstairs — and he went.
He thought he was part of the household.
Oh, he was, but he was just too big — a full grown jaguar. One of the regular parts of the trading business was with the interior, and one of these people who brought in, I don't know what it was, it might have been rubber, from the interior, was brought to the house to see the white baby, because, while of course, there were plenty of Portuguese in that area, they were all dark skinned, and a fair blonde baby was just something amazing.
When he left he was given a white shirt, the first he had ever owned, and was told it was a present from the baby, and he left vowing eternal gratitude. Well, a couple of months later he came back on his next trip, with a big box on his head, and said this was a present for the baby, but it was not to be opened in the baby's room. When they opened it, it had a boa constrictor in it — which, of course, was valuable. And so they put the boa constrictor — this was one of those tropical houses up on stilts with a lattice — so they kept the boa constrictor down under the house, in this latticed — in area. According to what Dad says that great-grandfather said, (his grandfather), this was the best mouser they'd ever had. They had been plagued, as most tropical places are, with rats, and the rats disappeared as if by magic. After that, he was fed a rabbit once a month.
As a prize?
No, for food. Boa constrictors don't eat very often. He ate all the rats. But then he got fed once a month. He got a rabbit. When they came back to New York they brought some of their animals with them. They brought the boa constrictor. When he got to New York, they sold it to Barnum and Bailey.
And as Dad used to say, quoting his grandfather, "The most amazing thing, the most miraculous thing about that boa constrictor was, between the day Barnum and Bailey bought it and the day he showed it a week later, it grew ten feet."
That's what Barnum and Bailey said.
They also had electric eels, and that was fine as long as he was down there. He was just interested in experimenting with their electricity. They had them in a tank of saltwater on the deck of the sailing ship when they came back. They ran into a storm off of Cape Hatteras. I guess it was salt water because the estuary was brackish at least, the Para River. The eels washed out of the tank, and they were washing around on the deck, and the seamen couldn't get anywhere close to them because they were getting all these awful shocks. They finally had to wash them overboard. They never got them home.
I wonder if they would have survived in the Hatteras area?
Oh no. The water would be too cold.
But when they came back, they had their Mama Maria, their Portuguese nursemaid.
Mama Maria, Mother Maria. That's a Portuguese baby nurse. She was part of the family. It was winter time when they got back. She'd put the diaper pail outside the door at night, as they did at home. She came in the next morning in a terrible state. The diaper pail was bewitched, she could see the diapers but she couldn't reach them. She'd never seen ice before!
This was in New York.
This was in New York, yes. They were in New York for several years, and then they went to Edinburgh, where he was general manager of the North British Rubber Company.
Approximately what time was this, what year?
It was during the Civil War. They came back to New York, I think, more than once. This business with the diapers must have been my Great-Uncle Will, who was the youngest in the family.
Is it your grandmother that received the mathematics education at Edinburgh?
She and Aunt Ada both. And they both won prizes in mathematics. Aunt Ada was only second. This was in the 1860's. That mathematics medal was something that Dad very much prized, a gold medal, a star. It was given to him by his mother. I don't know whether it was when he got into Phi Beta Kappa or when he graduated with honors at Princeton or something. His mother won the medal, and his mother gave him the medal as an award when he did so well.
But his mother's sister, his aunt (Ada) — who came in second?
She came in second.
She was the one that he lived with?
That's right. So when our daughter graduated from college, in mathematics, he gave it to her. So she has the mathematics medal. But it was sort of a family award for mathematics. But none of us [were mathematicians or astronomers]. My brother is a doctor, and my sister was in art, I mean history of art, that sort of thing, and when I finally did get my degree, I was in genetics.
Yes, but it was biology. Anyway, he didn't think any of us deserved a mathematical medal, but Margaret was in mathematics, so she got the mathematical medal.
Uncle Alec was the youngest of the brothers — Alexander. When he retired he lived in Tucson, Arizona for a number of years. He died just a year ago, March this last year. His youngest brother. The middle brother died of pneumonia in 1932, the one who was a minister. His name was Gordon McGregor Russell. He was going to be named after one of two family friends. The other one was named Clarence Primrose, so I guess he was lucky he got the Gordon McGregor.
What did Alexander Russell do?
He was a businessman. He was the manager of the Rochester Water Company for many many years, and he retired to Tucson because he had family living there. His older son had a chronic infection of the bronchii, related to emphysema. But he had pneumonia every winter in Rochester, so he went to the dry climate for his health, and he didn't have pneumonia after he went to Tucson, where he's still living.
You've already given me some marvelous glimpses into your early home life. I was wondering if you could expand upon it beyond your first impressions, and talk about growing up. In the family.
Oh sure. Dad was a very good teacher, incidentally. He believed in the Socratic method. You were supposed to make the person you were teaching teach themselves, so to speak, and he had infinite amounts of patience. He explained things at great, great length. But there was one story that Mother used to quote with great joy, and I remember, I'm sure my sister must remember it too. She was having trouble with a composition she had to write for English, in grade school some time. He was using this method, and he said to her, "Well, now, for example, you might say — "
She burst into tears, and she said, "But this isn't an example, this is a composition!" Examples she could do easily. We never had any trouble with math, any of us. But compositions were something else.
It seemed to be a characteristic of your father that many people recall, that he was able to see through what another person was trying to do, and explain it in a clear manner.
Oh yes. He wouldn't just give you the answer. You had to work it out yourself. As I said, this is the Socratic method of teaching, and it's much better education, actually, if you are made to do it for yourself. He wouldn't just say, "That's wrong, do it over again." He would make you educate yourself. But he had infinite amounts of patience in explaining things. And he delighted to be around children, and going anywhere with them.
The first time I went West was in 1927. Geology was writ large all over the country, of course. He explained everything so that you understood it. He explained astronomy, and that first summer — for I was already interested in geology — he'd take me to lectures if I wanted to go, even all-male things, as Princeton was. I remember one time, I must have been teenage then, the man's name was Odell. He was the person who got the highest on Everest and came back, on the expedition before the successful one. This was back in the 1920's. Anyway, I wanted to hear him. And this was geology seminar. So he took me, and I had a lovely time.
Oh, they put up with an awful lot from me. Because I'd get excited about things, and he [her father] encouraged this. At the dining room table, there was an awful lot of conversation, but Mother quickly discovered there was only one thing to do. She put my brother on one side of my father and me on the other, while my sister Lucy and Jean Hetherington, who was my sister Elizabeth's companion, and she, were at the other end of the table. Elizabeth normally didn't eat with us because she was bedridden a good part of the time. My mother knew what was going to happen — Henry and Dad and I were off on scientific things all the time, and you couldn't get a word in edgewise, and so they decided, if they wanted to converse at all, they would have to sit at the other end of the table.
And your brother, he was on the other side.
Oh yes. He was interested mostly in biological things, but in everything, and it just popped the whole time. It was a very exciting environment to live in.
So the three of you talked science, at one end of the table, and what was the conversation at the other end of the table?
Oh, it might be most anything, but some of it was household type things. My sister Lucy was not so interested in scientific things. She was much more interested in clothing and such like, and she had an awful time with Mother, who was a conservative of the conservatives, as far as clothing was concerned. Back in the 1920's, she was still wearing her skirts about four inches above her ankles. She thought that makeup was devilish, hair should be long; she was just very conservative, and silk stockings, oh dear!
My sister Lucy did all the fighting, see. She was the oldest one. Then the twin was an invalid, so she didn't get [involved]. But for all of us, to be a modern girl, she did all the fighting. By the time I came along, I had the advantages.
Did she do the fighting with your mother and father?
Oh no. Dad was conservative, too, but as far as this type of thing was concerned, Mother had the last word, and she gradually moved into the 20th century.
Oh, you should have seen the Gay Nineties bathing suit she had, in the 1920's. She was still wearing it. I don't know why it didn't go to a museum eventually. Long black stockings were worn under the bathing dress — which had its skirt to the knees, black, with sleeves down to the elbows, and ruffles — oh, it was a lovely bathing suit!
But Dad, oh, you should have seen what he wore in the summer time. We went to Clark's Island in Plymouth Harbor from the time I was six years old, in the summer.
Where is that?
It's in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It's the place where the Pilgrims spent their first Sabbath before they landed, after they'd left Provincetown, Cape Cod. And we went there every summer, from 1920, until 1932, except for the years we went to Europe and to Arizona.
Did you ever go to Madison, Connecticut? I know your father was there from time to time, in the summers.
Oh, no, that was Southport. That was my grandfather's estate. Well, estate is not quite the term. It was a summer house on Long Island Sound, and across the road he had a farm. He was a lawyer in New York, my mother's father, but he loved the country, and they lived out there six months of the year, and it was a going farm until 1920, when it was too hard to get farm help after the war. He grew potatoes, he had pigs, he had horses and cattle. They had their own cream. They raised, of course, a vegetable garden and raspberries and such like. It was one of my early joys, feeding little apples to the pigs.
Did your father like to do this sort of thing too?
Oh, he liked the beach better. He could spend hours watching the tide come in, and watching the wave currents of water work. He just loved to watch water at work and watch the tides. That was another great joy. We went there every summer until my grandfather sold that place. Then we went up to Massachusetts.
About your early trips out West, and his propensity to show you all the geological formations, especially when you got out into the Western country. You took the Southern route, out through Arizona?
Oh no, not exactly. Of course, he went every year to California, from 1922 on — he was two months every year at Mt. Wilson as a research associate. He always went different ways. He tried every rail route across the Continent at one time or another. He went by ship through the Panama Canal. But he particularly loved Flagstaff, and usually he went via Flagstaff, one way. But that particular year, 1927, he was already in California, and Mother and my sister Lucy and my brother Henry and I went out by Chicago, and then to Yellowstone, and we met him at West Yellowstone. It took five days by sleeping car from New York to Los Angeles in those days. This was 1927.
Then he met us at Yellowstone, and we spent four or five days at Yellowstone going around on the bus, and then went back with him to San Francisco, and took the night boat down to Los Angeles, and visited at Pasadena, spent one night up at the Kapteyn Cottage on Mt. Wilson.
Who did you visit with in 1927, your first visit? There must have been a lot of people there.
Oh yes. Adams and Hubble and Humason and Joy and — I can't remember exactly, but Adams and Hubble were his particular friends. Hubble was working up on the mountain, and I think we stayed up at Kapteyn Cottage. They arranged that we could stay up there. We visited with the Adamses, and Hubble was on the 100 inch, and he showed us a number of goodies — the star cluster in Hercules, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, Saturn. I don't think the moon. Anyway, through the 100-inch. Great joy.
And then, from there, we went by rail to Flagstaff and spent the summer.
Oh, that's very interesting because I know of your father's interest in archeology.
And I was very interested to know if he ever talked to his children about archeology.
Oh, of course.
What types of archeology?
Well, I was going to be a classical archeologist, but I got waylaid. I met Frank. That's what I was studying, first at Smith and then at Bryn Mawr, where I was for only a short period before we got married.
I started out, of course, with Egypt and Greece and Rome particularly, especially Greek. In fact when we went to Europe for the old fashioned Grand Tour — we went in June of '29, after my brother and sister graduated from high school, and were gone for 15 months. I wasn't that interested in cutting into my schooling halfway through high school, so I said, "I won't go unless we can go to Crete and Egypt." And since my mother wanted to go to Crete and Egypt, she used this as a weapon with Dad to decide they really could find the money to do it.
She wanted to anyway.
Did your interest stem from his, or did your interest develop his?
Oh, no. He was already interested. He just encouraged any kind of intellectual interest. If archeology was what I wanted to talk about, he talked about archeology, and in fact, as I said, my family put up with a great deal from me.
When I was 12, Garstang, the famous British Hittite archeologist, gave a series of lectures at Princeton. They had these archeological lectures every year. That was the first time I went to a whole series, and the first time I tried to take notes. I think I was 12. Anyway, I was all excited about it. These came after school, once a week for six weeks, and when I got home in the evening, nobody heard anything except the Hittites for dinner that night. My mother got awfully tired of the Hittites. But Dad didn't discourage me.
And I did go to the archeological lectures regularly. Oh, I don't know what age I started. After all, I was sort of weaned on classical mythology and such like.
Which types of archeology, which civilizations, did your father find the most fascinating?
He didn't really know much of anything about the Orient. Archeology, in the period when he was brought up, was the Mediterranean World. And of course, he was interested in this hemisphere. But the Far East was really outside the ken of Western Europeans and Americans in the 19th century, except maybe if you were in California. And ancient history, world history and what not, as I had it in school, and I had excellent teachers, didn't touch the Orient, except [with] the British expansion — and that sort of thing.
Has David Philip mentioned to you his interest in having an archeologist give a lecture for the symposium, for the banquet?
Well, this is his idea, because he knew of your father's interests, and I was interested in finding a person to do that. I'd like to know if there are any archeologists who knew your father?
Oh my. They're probably all gone by now. After all, Dad's been dead for 20 years. For instance, that trip when we spent the winter in Egypt; one of the places we went was to see Breasted, at his work camp, near the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from Luxor. But as I said, they're gone now. I have a cousin who is an archeologist, I think. As I said, my grandfather was Canadian, and the rest of that family stayed in Canada, and this is one of the Canadian family — my father's first cousin, John McCurdy, who went back to England and was in Cambridge, Christ College, I think it was. He wasn't an archeologist, it was the daughter who was the archeologist. In the brief time I was at Bryn Mawr, she was a classmate of mine. Her name was Norah, and I think she became an archeologist, but I don't know what her married name is.
No, John McCurdy was a psychiatrist, and that family, it was just like a catalyst when they got together. They just talked continually, loudly. You know, and enjoyed themselves enormously. Mother was not very fond of John McCurdy, because she didn't like his attitudes, which people would say were very normal nowadays.
What were his attitudes?
Oh, you know — he was a little bit cynical about man and his motives, shall we say. Psychiatrists usually are.
How about your father? What were his attitudes about man? In these kinds of discussions?
It was a very interesting combination. The one thing he didn't tolerate was stupidity. Ignorance he tolerated, but stupidity, uh uh. Theoretically, he had the old, rather harsh attitudes. But if he knew anybody, his judgments were rather soft, shall we say. If he knew a person, he could see all the good in them. But in the mass, he had the Calvinist viewpoint, of the original sin of humanity. Mother, of course, was on the other side. She was more on the personal religion, personal worth side, and they had over the, years many, many arguments, debates more, on-these different points of view. And neither ever convinced the other one.
Your father and your mother.
That's very interesting. Did you ever participate?
Oh, of course. No one in the family could keep out of these things. I mean, it was a family trait, that everybody had to jump in on every argument and get their two bits worth in, even if you knew nothing about it. It was a very stimulating atmosphere, and highly nervous, I might say. I used to swear, after I got out of it, I was NOT going to get in another argument, because I'd get so wrought up, and just as soon as you got there, just couldn't keep out.
How about your brother and sister? How did they react to these?
Same thing. Though my sister Lucy found it more difficult She didn't like to get that excited about things. But oh, we all did. I remember the arguments that went on about where we should go in Europe. We'd never been there, but we all had to have our points of view expressed with great vigor.
Who usually won the arguments?
Oh, well, it wasn't a question of winning the arguments. My father and mother never changed their viewpoints on religion. But they always argued about whether it was better to give to charity personally or through organized groups. And it was the impersonal versus the personal.
There was one lovely story my mother used to tell. After a while, she got to know what to expect, but she always reacted [the] same way you'd expect anyway. I cannot tell you why they wanted to argue about Moses shortly after they were married, but it was Moses. They'd argued about Moses before, and they never changed their points of view. But this particular time, she was tired, she wanted to go to bed and stop arguing. But no, he wouldn't let her stop arguing, until finally he backed her into a corner, an arm on each side so she couldn't get away. So she flared up and put forth her best arguments, and thought she'd done very well. And he deflated her completely by standing back in admiration and saying, "My dear, you did very well."
She used to tell about this. Laugh. But that didn't stop them. They weren't mad at each other. He just liked to debate. It was an intellectual exercise.
How did he listen to others? Was he very attentive, careful?
You'd think, as he got older, that he was sleeping in a colloquium, or drowsing. He'd sit in the front row and nod. When the colloquium was over, he would ask the question that put together all the things that the speaker hadn't seen were related. It was the most incredible thing. This is my definition really, of genius. I worked in Herman J. Muller's lab, and he had this same capacity to take facts that, once you've put them together, were obvious. But to be able to synthesize things that nobody has synthesized before, and see how these things relate to a larger whole — it's a very interesting capacity, which very, very few people have.
Oh, Dad was legendary in meetings. He always sat in the front row. Even with the most bumbling graduate student, he would ask the questions that brought out, elicited the very best. And time after time, people would say, after giving the talk, that they felt that his [the speaker's] work was more important than he'd realized it was. It was a very interesting capacity. And over a generation, he was the catalyst in meetings, this way. It was a very interesting thing.
Were there ever situations where people were rubbed the wrong way by this kind of aid?
No, this would be afterward. Not during the talk. But after the talk was over, in the question period, there used to be much more freedom of questioning because the meetings were small. And sometimes the discussions would go on 15 or 20 minutes after a paper.
No, he asked the questions that showed up what the real importance of it was. And of course the speaker just loved it. But as I say, he was not tolerant of real stupidity. But also, well, he had his prejudices. He hadn't much tolerance for the Irish. He was a Scotsman. I guess it's religious primarily, the thing he couldn't tolerate was: the "Irish weren't truthful," the blarney, which so many people find so attractive. The truth was very important. But of course, the whole basis of it was, the Scots-Irish basic religious differences — Protestant-Catholic. He was a Scotsman, his people were, and these were inherited points of view.
Were there any particular people that he didn't get along with?
Well, as I said,, when he knew people it was fine. He could find excuses even for the stupidest ones.
If I recall correctly, your father in his aunt's house lived not too far away from where your mother was growing up?
No. Mother was a New Yorker. My grandfather was a lawyer in New York. But Mother's best friend, May Young, and my mother, went to a little dame's school at Mrs. Young's house, and May was the same age she was. The Youngs had a summer home in Oyster Bay, so that they were friends of the pastor's in Oyster Bay. So it was through May Young originally that they met, when Mother was visiting the Youngs in Oyster Bay, in the summer time.
In fact, they knew each other for 11 years before they were married.
Do you know any stories about their relationship before they were married, for these 11 years?
Well, when they first met, Mother was 15. She was visiting her friend May in the summer time.
Your father must have been a graduate student then.
No, he'd just graduated. It was just a friendship, and Dad was a terribly serious young man, and Mother was a terribly serious young lady. Her father wanted her to be a proper debutante, you know, and come out in society. He was a very attractive man and an excellent dancer. One of her girl friends' mothers said to her one time, "I've danced miles with your father." But she was rather a wallflower type and very serious.
Yes. She didn't like the city. She was a country girl by inclination, and nothing delighted her more than living out in the country in Princeton. No, she knew she was interested in Dad. Of course, she was a school girl. Nobody at that period was thinking of getting married. But he was a graduate student, and then he had a breakdown immediately after he got his PhD.
Now, this has been attributed to overwork.
Well, Mother always said so.
Working with the mathematician Harry Fine, and for C.A. Young.
Yes. But he was a very highstrung person, and he was just working too hard.
What kind of a breakdown was it?
It was referred to as a nervous breakdown, with depression. Oh, he just went to pieces, physically. He had another one in later years. As a result of worrying why we hadn't gotten into the First World War. I was quite young at the time and the thing I remember about that is that, in the initial stages, he would spend hours pacing back and forth in the hall, which ran the total length of the house, sort of muttering to himself and shaking his hands.
Who was he shaking his hands at, figuratively?
This was just nervous shaking, letting off steam. And then he just went to pieces. Went off on a vacation. This was in 1917 or thereabouts. Or maybe it was somewhat later than that. I was just a little girl at the time.
After World War I, then.
Well, but the thing that set it off, when I remember this pacing business, was in 1917, before we got in the war. When I was little.
Did he ever talk about President Wilson?
Oh yes, he talked about Wilson He didn't think much of him. After all, he was a faculty member under Wilson, a colleague of Wilson.
He also took a history course, I believe, or went to history lectures given by Wilson.
Oh, that's quite possible. He went to lots of things. As a professor, I think he thought he was fine, but not as an administrator.
Let's get back to the parents, how they met.
They saw each other only in the summers. For those years he was a graduate student. And I think they may have corresponded occasionally.
What kinds of things did they do together?
They played tennis. Neither of them played tennis worth a hoot. I think they even played golf occasionally. Dad had very fine hand coordination to build card houses, but he could not either hit or catch a ball. That eye-hand coordination he didn't have. But they did the kinds of things that one did in the summer time.
Did he continue to work? Did he have odd jobs in the summer? Did he ever work at odd jobs?
No, never. He took a complete vacation in the summer. When we went up to Massachusetts in the summer, it was three months in the summer.
Oh, I started to tell you about his favorite garb in the summer. Of course, in the winter time, you know, he had stiff collars and was always the very formal professor. But in the summer, he was definitely informal. He didn't go barefoot. He had terrible pairs of old sneakers. And he wore knicker of course they were fashionable at that time. But for some reason I do not understand, between the knickers and the old sneakers, there were puttees.
What are they?
PUTTEES. These were the wrappings that the First World War soldiers used, you know, and these were left over from his war times. They were wrappings. You had knee britches, then from there on down to the boots, they were cloth strips, khaki strips that you wrapped, round and round and round. That's what puttees were.
Anyway, between his knickers, which stopped just below the knees, there were bare legs with khaki puttees wrapped around the middle. I don't understand why but that's the way they were. Except when he was in and out of the water, which he was a good, part of the time.
Did he swim well?
Oh, sure, he swam all right. He taught us all to swim by the time we were six. And he was brought up at the shore, after all. He taught us all how to sail. He wasn't about to allow anybody to go out in a sailboat until they could swim. We spent a great deal of time on the water, puttering around with the motor boat, and dories, sailboats, and on the beach.
Did he ever practice navigation in the sailboats? Did he go far enough? Or was this just in the shore area?
Oh, this was the shore area. Oh, he had his sextant. It's an octant, actually, and I have it. I gave it to my daughter.
It is still in existence?
Yes. I finally took pictures of it, it's an antique, and sent them off to Hertz. Is it Hertz? At Greenwich. I may be wrong about that.
I'll put the name down.
I may be wrong about that. I got the name of the man to write to.
This is the Royal Observatory — ?
— at Greenwich. And he identified it for me as being built some time between 1790 and 1810. It's an octant. The difference between an octant and a sextant, as he told me, is that a sextant measures 120 degrees and an octant measures 90 degrees. But he used this. He used this during the First World War, from Jennies, when he was working on navigation instruments.
When did he get this octant? Was this a childhood toy that he had?
It was definitely not a toy. I'm not really sure when he got it. My guess is that he got it in a second hand store in London or Cambridge during the time he was a post-doc. But of course, he and Mother both were always very particular, when they talked about any particular piece of furniture or jewelry or anything, about identifying where it came from. Now, for instance, the dining room chairs there were wedding presents to my grandparents. And they were always so identified. They were Gampie's chairs.
What's the name of it?
Oh, these particular chairs are Sheraton. And they were antiques. They're real Sheraton. There's a set just like them in the Metropolitan Museum. But they were always identified as Gampie's chairs. And a piece of jewelry would be identified as my great-grandfather's or something like this. And the very fact that he said this was his octant made me think that he bought it himself in a second hand store. But this is purely a psychological thing. Even after they'd lived together almost 50 years, as far as Mother was concerned, it wasn't "my furniture." Things were identified historically speaking. We all still do it. It's just that we were trained that way. This was the way he thought about things, and it was part of the historical sense. And certainly as far as I'm concerned, a large part of the value of the things is to which ancestors they belonged.
I would like to get back to the early exposures your father might have had to astronomy. I know the story about the transit of Venus, 1882. Is there anything you can add to that?
I don't really know. I mean, he was enormously interested in the whole world, of course, and very observant. It certainly showed at a very early age that he was not quite the usual child. After his brother Gordon was born, when he was 2-1/2, he was shown the new baby. His first comment was, as recorded by my great grandmother, "He moves his head like a pendulum."
Your father said that at the age of 2-1/2?
He was 2-1/2 when he first saw his new baby brother. Not much later than that, when he was not quite three, he taught himself to read by reading the dictionary.
Do you know which dictionary it was?
Oh, it must have been one of the big ones with pictures. And again, I used to tease him about these things. Not that year, but the next summer or maybe the second summer when they were spending part of the summer with their [maternal] grandparents at Bay Head, New Jersey at the shore. Probably this was the summer Uncle Alec was born, in 1883, when Dad was five. They spent part of the summer, when they were little, with their mother's parents. They were playing on the boardwalk, and he and Gordon each had a penny. By and by, one of the pennies went through the slats of the boardwalk, and so, woe — you know.
Little Henry said, "I lost Gordon's penny." And I used to tease him about this, because I'd heard this story so many times, and he said, "Well, it was Gordon's penny. The dates were different."
He knew. And he had this marvelous exactitude. I remember a letter I got from him one time, when he was coming back from California on the Grace Line boat through the Canal, the Panama Canal.
What was the year?
I don't remember what year it was. But I had a letter from him, from Mexico, and he said, "Dear Margaret," maybe it was a postcard — "You would like this boat, it is about 6002 tons."
I teased him about that too, and he said, "I don't know how much cargo it had in it. It was listed at 6002 tons."
He was exact, you see. But I teased him about that "about." Well, anybody else would have said "6000 tons." "About 6002."
But that's the way he thought. And clearly, the pennies incident was the same thing. He didn't mind being teased. Though he didn't like to be really teased. I think this is one reason, actually, that his mother sent him to Princeton, because Gordon especially was a real tease. He [Henry] was a serious child and he didn't know how to handle it. The kind of teasing that goes to gags and practical jokes, he had no tolerance for whatsoever, and he would not permit it in the family.
What were their ages at the time he left?
Well, Uncle Gordon must have been 9-1/2 or so, Uncle Alec was six or seven, and they were normal devilish little boys, you know. And what do you do with a brain? They weren't stupid, I think they all three of them made Phi Beta Kappa. But you know, the difference, the tail of the distribution — Poisson distribution — there's an awful long way between that No. 1 and No. 2.
I've been aware of that all my life. In more ways than one.
Is this in regard to your father?
Yes. But the difference, whether they both made Phi Beta Kappa or not — it was quite obvious that there was a lot of difference. He must have been a little difficult to live up to as the oldest brother. In fact, I know that Uncle Alec found it extremely difficult at Princeton to come after his two older brothers, who were more brilliant than he was.
What about the Princeton Preparatory School? Did your father ever talk about his experiences there?
It was run by John Fine, who was Harry Fine's brother. In fact, the school I went to, Miss Fine's School for Girls, was run by their sister, May Margaret Fine. My brother went to Princeton Prep too, and John Fine was still running it.
What were his main strengths in running the school, John Fine?
Oh, it was an old fashioned classical preparatory school, good discipline, good basic science, mathematics — you know, a really good preparatory school. But those days, nobody was lenient. It was a day school. I don't know whether it still exists or not. It did, not too many years ago. I think maybe not, now. It was then about 2-1/2 miles out in the country, and he rode his bicycle every day, towards Kingston. Now it's all built up the whole way. My brother rode his bicycle, too.
The tuition was paid by the family?
Was it high tuition? Was it difficult to handle?
I have no idea. When your salary is $1000 a year, $100 tuition would be high. I don't know what the tuition was, but at the time that my brother went there, which was a generation later, I think the tuition was $350, $400, something like that. I mean, it was steep for that time, but it was the going rate for a good prep school, for day school. At Miss Fine's, the amount you paid was graded according to the grade, and when I started in school I think was something like $200 a year. And it got up to about $400 by the time I graduated.
This is you.
Yes. But what it was when he went, I have no idea. I never saw the bills. And since my great-grandfather had been a retired businessman who was reasonably well-to-do, his daughters and his sons too, had some money of their own.
What about Princeton? Was there never any question that your father was going to go to Princeton too?
None at all. No.
Princeton was THE school for him.
Well, he lived with his aunt. But that's where he was going. That was it.
He continued to live there, while he went to Princeton.
He lived in the same house, from the time he was 12 until the time he died.
There was no requirement at Princeton, as there is at Yale and other places, where you spend at least one year in residence on campus?
How do you think he got interested in astronomy?
I really don't know. I mean, he was interested in the whole wide world, as I said. And I don't remember him ever saying what it was that caused him to pick astronomy rather than something else.
You say he was interested in everything, but he most certainly must have had influences. I've heard that he was particularly strong in the classics. Was this from his home upbringing?
This was from his home upbringing, and especially from his aunt, because Aunt Ada was better in languages than her sister was. I'm not sure I would say Dad was that strong in the classics. He'd had Greek, but not a great deal. But the only thing that he flatly refused to help me with when I was in school was Latin prose composition. It was the only course he got a third group in at Princeton. There were first, second, third, fourth, fifth group passing, and then there were two flunking groups. He could read languages reasonably well, but he didn't have the real capacity for speaking languages. He wasn't a natural linguist. Latin, he had more of. Greek he never had a great deal of, and when I was taking Greek, he just said, "I've forgotten it all."
Did your father ever talk about C.A. Young in ways that you would remember?
Not too much. He obviously got along with him. But he was gone, of course, a good part of the time, after he got his doctorate. First he was out a couple of years. Then he was three years at Kings College in Cambridge, and then came back and joined the faculty in 1906. At the munificent salary of a thousand. And he absolutely refused to propose to Mother until he had what he considered a living wage. My mother's grandmother, the one whose picture's in the other room, portrait, got definitely impatient — she knew Mother was interested in him. So she said to her, "May, why don't you marry Lord Henry?" which is what (she) Gammie Cole, called him. Mother was kind of flustered, and she said, "Well, I don't know — maybe because he hasn't asked me.
And Gammie said, "Pshaw, what a reason!"
How did your father gain such a title?
I have no idea. He was very high in Gammie's book. But they just must have thought that he was sort of aristocratic.
And a serious nature.
Uh-huh. The family thoroughly approved of him. But the thing with him was that he would not propose until he got a raise, so that he thought it was enough to live on. And when he got a raise to $2000, he proposed.
There is a set of letters, first from E.0. Lovett, giving him the instructorship, with the payment of $1000, and then his various promotions. These are preserved in the Princeton Letters, special collections of the Princeton University Library. Did you deposit them?
They are there, and they're in very nice shape. I was thinking of photo-reproducing them.
After he died, Mother took some of the things up to the Library. I mean, I did a lot of the legwork, but of course, in later years, anything I found, while she was still living, I would take up there. But some of the things, she may have taken directly. Anything that was at the observatory, she didn't have anything to do with. Lyman Spitzer handled that.
But after he died, there were a lot of things that she attended to, directly.
I know that he was very close to Young. I think there's no question of that.
Oh, I think that's right. I just never heard him speak a great deal, one way or the other.
Did he ever speak about the family, Young's family?
No. I don't remember. The only thing I remember specifically his saying about Young, any astronomer would enjoy.
The Halstead telescope was an absolute beast to operate.
The big one, the 23 inch.
The 23 inch, yes. That's not the present one. It was moved from a location on University Place, and it was the old one, the old setting.
One time, Young said very seriously, "No matter what the sky looks like outside, when the temperature is below zero, it's cloudy."
I understand why.
Yes. That I know Young said. Dad quoted that with glee, often.
Did your father like to observe?
Oh yes. He didn't do a lot of observing. In fact, he didn't do any observing after I knew him. Because he was working with spectra mostly by that time. But oh yes, he did a lot of observing when he was a young man. There were a lot of old glass plates that he had taken of the moon and various things. I don't have any of them now. I think I probably turned them over to the observatory. A lot of them were not in good shape, but they were just, you know, the old lantern slide plates.
There are a lot of such plates in the Russell Collection itself.
I took anything to the observatory that they wanted, and if they didn't want it, then it went to the library. But there were a lot of those. Those were at the house, that he had taken. He did a lot of photography. He enjoyed photography. He also had a chemistry lab upstairs when he was in high school. His aunt put up with it.
I know of one time that he was doing something, and got his hands terribly stained, and he looked up in the book, to see what would take the stains off. And the book said, "Aqua Regia." And so he just lived with the stains. When he was high school age, it wasn't just astronomy. He was playing around with chemistry and photography. He enjoyed photography, and when he was college age he did a lot of astronomical photography. Spent a lot of time with the nine-inch.
Did he ever say why he went into astronomy?
I really don't know. Of course, in math, he was a natural. And — maybe Young sold him, I don't know.
He was very interested in going to Cambridge, to study.
— with A.R. Hinks.
Well, with Darwin.
Yes, but of course, by that time he was already in astronomy. And when he was high school age, I never thought to ask him, why did you pick astronomy? Of course, astronomy was natural, you know. But I don't know that he was particularly interested in astronomy, more than anything else, at that time. He certainly was playing around with chemistry, and math, astronomy, physics — all more or less together, in that period.
That might show while Young could have been an influence, let's say, because Young's synthesis of physics, chemistry, astronomy, a little bit of mathematics, and of course Young's texts were primary texts.
Oh yes. I don't really know what the setup was at that time, for required courses, and just which things you had to take, and why he wound up in astronomy rather than math. I'm not quite sure. In fact, as I said, Fine was still hoping he was going to be a mathematician, by the time of his doctorate.
In fact, I do recall that he did not decide definitely he was going into astronomy until after he'd gone into graduate school. It was going to be astronomy or math. But that was almost preordained, the math, because that was just there.
At Cambridge he did also study spherical harmonics. And so he still was taking mathematics, as a postdoc. I'm going to change the tape, and then could you tell me a little more about the nervous breakdown and that period of his life. The first one.
Well, actually, I don't really know too much about it. I know he was really in quite bad shape.
Did he seek medical aid?
I'm sure he did have medical aid. There were some letters that my sister and I looked at, and this wasn't a letter from him, I think. This was a letter from one sister to the other or something of the sort. But a lot of this stuff, we didn't keep. We were interested in it just from our own point of view. I think it was a letter from his mother to (her sister) his aunt, saying that they were taking him to the doctor in New York. And this is really all I know about it. But what the doctor prescribed was complete rest. Once he got over the immediate stages, where apparently he was quite ill, and was well enough to travel, then they went on a long trip to Europe. In fact, he was going to go with his mother, and then his mother wasn't able to go, so his aunt took over at the last moment.
But he was with his mother, during the spring. They spent the spring in Capri, and had a lovely time. I think this was in 1902. I'm not really sure about that.
Could he have gone through London at that time and met astronomers?
No. I'm not really sure just what the problem was. They wanted to get him totally away from book things, outdoors, and whether he had trouble sleeping, whether he had periods of depression, which is quite possible, what the problem was, I don't really know. But I know he was quite ill for a while. And then this worked very well. His mother was going to go with him the first year. I think this must have been 1902, because he was recovering, and was then going to go to Cambridge, and his mother was going to go, and then she couldn't go, so Ada came over at the last moment. She arranged for somebody else to look after the house, and she came over and kept house for him, the first semester he was there, the first year.
While he was taking courses.
Yes. And they had an apartment, or a little house, I'm not quite sure which, in Cambridge. Then, after that first [year] he was getting along fine. Then he lived in Kings. He had his own digs the rest of the time.
To your knowledge, was this an illness that was predictable, that he was beginning to break down? Because I do have some letters from Young to Russell and Russell to Young, 1898, 1899, when Russell was doing some teaching or was planning to do some instructorship type teaching as a graduate student. And Young was worried. Do you mind me calling him "Russell" just for convenience?
No. Well, you know, at that period, when I was growing up, too — he always called all his friends by their last names. He never called him "Harlow" in his life. He was always "Shapley," or "Brown, Schlesinger, Eddington, Jeans — " I mean this was the way, and to their faces too. This was the friendly way. You didn't use first names, but you used the last names without titles.
Very interesting. Anyway, in regard to that period, he actually was doing some work, theoretical work, in the summers, and Young was concerned both about his working, his health, and whether he should take on the, instructorship, too. And he referred specifically to his health. So was this something that people were beginning to worry about?
Probably. He was always very high strung. His subconscious was always very close to his conscious. Most people dream all the time, but they're not aware of it. So the doctors say. It's only when you're just about to wake up that you are aware that you're dreaming. But from eye movements and so on, they know you're dreaming all the time; your subconscious is at work. He was aware of it. The subconscious was so close to the conscious, that he dreamed almost continually, and he knew it. And he was very high strung. And, as I indicated, with this electric sparks that flew, the arguments, the discussions and so on. The problem Mother had with bringing up children was that they were always so tense, so excited, that when I was seven and eight years old, I was still sent to bed at 6 o'clock at night and had to take a nap in the afternoon, because that was the only way she knew how to unwind all of us.
And your father too possibly after you went to sleep —
No, he didn't. But they went to bed early.
He never unwound?
Oh, in the summer time — well, he did take his work with him, some of his research, and he might work a couple of hours a day. But he had to have a complete three months vacation. Then he lived with nature. You know, he was outdoors.
Were these his happiest periods?
I don't know. As I said, he loved children. He loved going to museums. He knew a great deal about art and art history and history. One time, on one of his trips to Europe, he was on a ship going through Gibraltar, and he was at a table with somebody who was a professor of, I guess, art history. Who was amazed and horrified to discover at the end of the trip that Dad was a professor of astronomy. He was sure he was a colleague in his field. He was a wonderful conversationalist on all sorts of subjects.
He had a great knowledge of almost everything. He was a wonderful conversationalist, very much sought after at dinner parties and such like.
Who were your father's favorite artists?
Oh, the classic ones. People like Raphael. Del Sarto he liked all right. He liked Botticelli better. He loved the Dutch painters. He liked the classic English painters like Turner.
Any particular paintings that he would always come back to?
Oh, the Raphaels as much as anything, I think.
Was there something in the mysticism of the Raphaels that he liked, or was it the technique? What did he see in the art?
What do people see in art?
Oh, they see whatever they want to. That's why I'm asking the question.
He wasn't much for modern things, Impressionists and so on.
Well, in regards to the classics.
He also much enjoyed things like Jan Steen and he, of course, dearly loved Greek and Roman statuary, especially Greek.
Was it form? substance? Could he critically analyze?
Oh sure, if he wanted to.
What mainly drew him to this type of art?
It was beautiful.
In the Socratic way, when he introduced you to art works, or to anything for that matter, what kinds of values did he use? Did he use any kind of value system with you?
When we went to Europe that time, we had a half a trunkful of "Baedekers." We didn't miss anything. But we didn't have any guides. We didn't need them. Mother and Dad had both been in Europe many many times, and he was an excellent guide. In Greece and in Crete and Egypt, we had to have a guide, and then we did have a driver, in Palestine and Syria.
Well, no, he read. And you admired the output of different periods and different artists, for what they were. And then we looked at how the Egyptians did hands. They don't do hands in a very natural fashion. The two hands are the same.
What about Michelangelo?
Oh yes, he liked Michelangelo. And the house was full of the 19th century etching reproductions of Raphael cartoons and madonnas and paintings and what not.
I don't remember that we had any da Vinci in the house. He liked them all right. But I think there were more Raphaels. Well, let's see, there was a nice Andrea del Sarto I had, and one of the things I had in my room, I never understood why my family allowed me to have it or why it was in the house at all, is a chromo of Lady Hamilton, Nelson's girl friend. Lord Nelson's girl friend. I mean, shame, shame, shame — you know. Why I was allowed to have it up in my room? I always liked her. My son has it now. A chromo. A famous painting of Gainsborough's, Lady Hamilton. A very pretty picture.
Well, that's probably it.
I suppose. It was Art. I also had a terrible chromo of Marshall Joffre. This was First World War. It was a real chromo. And the English flag. We were all little Anglophiles. We were Anglophiles. My governess, later Elizabeth's companion, was a delightful Englishwoman. My mother was brought up to be that, and all my grandparents dearly loved France and they spoke French very well. Both of them. But we were brought up with a European rather than an American attitude on things. Well, this was common in New England, but not in the rest of the country.
In literary things, besides the things I mentioned, he loved Kipling. We were brought up on the JUNGLE BOOKS and MOWGLI STORIES, JUST SO STORIES.
Any Emerson? Philosophy?
Oh, he read Emerson. But he didn't read that aloud. The house was full of books, and I read voraciously, which, of course, he did too, obviously.
Of course, I didn't mention Shakespeare. He loved Shakespeare.
We all read Shakespeare, but this was not one of his favorite things to read aloud. Browning was more likely to be it.
What did he think of Mark Twain?
I don't remember that he ever said. The Americans didn't impinge on his consciousness to that extent. Well, now, my mother knew Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens.
She knew him?
Oh, sure. He was a white haired old man who lived in the next block. She lived on 10th Street and he lived on 9th Street, I think. In New York. My mother was a little girl. Yes, the neighborhood children all knew Mr. Clemens.
While your father was at Cambridge, he had another period of illness. Was this another breakdown from overwork? 1904-05.
No—he had been home in 1904 to vote in the Presidential Election; and went to his cousin Isabella McCurdy's wedding in Toronto. There he contracted typhoid fever, and took some months to recuperate at Oyster Bay. He didn't remember several weeks of this period at all.
I think he later recalled that because of the intensive observing schedule, and his subsequent illness, this is one of the reasons why he never observed again.
That might very well be. Yes, but as I said, he was very tense and high strung, and under more than so much pressure, he broke.
Did he ever talk about the various meetings he went to while he was working with Hinks? Did he talk about Hinks at all?
Not in the scientific sense. He was good friends with the Hinks family. All the ladies loved to have young Henry Russell come to visit, because he loved the children and he entertained the children so. Besides he was an excellent conversationalist, and had this natural facility. The ladies just fell over themselves with this attractive shy young man, you know. It must have been after this particular period, when he came back, he commented about how the children have grown.
You know, they kind of mothered him. They took him in, sort of a member of the family. This happened over and over again.
He was put in what anybody would consider to be rather tense positions, from time to time — justifying or explaining some of the positions that Hinks got them into, at the time. Hinks was a man who was very blunt, forthright, and at the time, with the EROS campaign, there were a lot of differences of opinion. Sources of error were cropping up. Hinks had some very particular ways of doing things. And your father supported him. In fact, from the correspondence, it looks like your father was the ingredient of success in Hinks's work. Did he ever recall the British-Association meetings?
He never said anything about them at all. You've seen all the rough stuff from his thesis, I presume? That's in the collections, too. I found that after Mother died, in a trunk upstairs — all his working papers for his thesis on the perturbation of EROS, yes.
Yes, I think I saw it, but I didn't look into it. This was all well before Hinks, and it's pretty obvious to me that his interest in EROS was spurred by the fact that everyone knew that the campaign was going to be put forth, and Russell was the right one, as a student, to study the perturbed orbit. And this certainly had something to do with his working for Hinks, although he never officially, from the Carnegie money at least, worked on EROS. Unofficially, though, he wrote most of Hinks's reduction formuli, and this was something he took in addition to his trigonometric parallax work —
— sure —
So it's the old overwork syndrome, it looks like, would you say?
He never really talked about the scientific things. That was just there. He must have been a bit lonely, missing his family. In spare time, he had a troop of, they didn't call them Scouts — it was the YMCA — of Cockney, inner city kids, of which he was leader, and he would take them on trips, take them out in the country walking. One of the things he commented about was that the nursery rhyme, the rhyming games, things like "Atisket, atasket," — he said, they are exactly the same tunes and exactly the same words as in the States. The traditions, those oral traditions of children, just don't change through the generations.
No, he loved and used to talk sometimes about what fun he had with these city kids, these Cockney kids. See, this was relaxation by getting totally away from science. Apparently, he was not able to do it in small doses. He was either totally immersed, and then he'd drive himself, overwork the motor; or, he would go on long walks out in the country and went all over many areas.
Were these solitary walks?
Very frequently. Sometimes he'd get somebody to go with him. But he always loved to get out, into nature.
Who did he walk with? Anyone in particular? Hinks?
I don't really know.
Because they seemed to have a good relationship.
He might have. I really don't know. I don't know if he bicycled there or not. He did bicycle a lot. But whether he did, (I think he did) in England, but I'm not sure. But he loved to get out in the country. I know when he was in college, he had an awful reputation among his classmates for never studying, which wasn't true at all. He studied in advance. Of course, the day before an exam he wanted to relax and get out in the country, and he would go around among all his classmates saying, "Come for a ride with me in the country."
So they said he never studied, which wasn't the case, but he had to relax, and the best way to relax was to get out in the country.
He had to disconnect completely from the scientific things, if he was going to relax. So when he did take a vacation, he was totally away from science. Oh, he'd go to a geology lecture or something.
But now this year we had in Europe, when I was only halfway through high school — during that 14, 15 months, aside from a few personal visits — we visited in Devonshire, we visited Lady Lockyer. We went out to Cambridge, and saw the Eddingtons. We visited Max Wolf in Heidelberg, and we visited the Abettis in Florence. Aside from that, we did not see any astronomers. He didn't read any astronomy. He didn't touch it, until the last month, he and I stayed over in Paris, with my brother, who had become violently ill just before we were supposed to come home. He had tuberculosis-pneumonia, almost died but then he was three weeks recovering. My sister and mother had to come home because my sister was starting college. So I stayed over with Dad, to keep him from going completely batty. And Mother didn't want him to stay by himself. She was afraid he might be under too much strain.
That was in 1929. We were staying in a hotel. And we arranged it so that he spent the morning with Henry. Henry was recovering by then. It was just a matter of — in the days before antibiotics — building up.
He had both TB and — ?
Well, it's what they called "tuberculosis-pneumonia." He had pneumonia and pleurisy, but it was apparently a healed lesion that broke open, and it was a systemic invasion. And if it's bad enough, you run extremely high fever and it kills off the infection, which is what happened to him. All of a sudden, his temperature went up to almost 106, his pulse was 160 and so on, and it killed off the infection. Then he had to recover from the results. Otherwise you have galloping consumption and you die in a few days.
So he was one of the lucky ones, and he's never had any problem since then. In fact, he was an Army physician in the East Indies during the Second World War, and he had to sign a medical waiver. He's never had any problems. The infection was killed off totally by the high fever.
Your mother wanted you to stay with your father to keep him —
— to keep him on an even keel.
Because he was so upset?
Being by himself for three weeks and all that — she thought it was much better when I offered to stay. But he went over to the hospital in the mornings, spent the morning with Henry, and then I did whatever things I had to do in the morning, and then went out and joined him at noon.
Was it difficult for your father to be alone? In general?
No, but in this situation, she didn't want him to have the responsibility, with Henry still in the hospital and all. She was much happier to have me there. And then we had lunch together. We met at this little restaurant. Then he went and spent the afternoon at Meudon, catching up on all the journals that he hadn't read in the previous year, because he'd stayed away from it completely, during this year.
What year was that?
That was 1929-30, the year we were in Europe and Mediterranean countries the whole year. It was his sabbatical. It was the only sabbatical he ever took. He stayed away from the astronomy completely, except for these four visits with old friends.
This must have been after he wrote his famous paper on the solar atmosphere, just after it.
This was in 1929-1930. We went over in June, '29. But if he was going to have a year's vacation, it was complete vacation. It was the same thing. He stayed away from astronomy. But this last three weeks, when he normally would have been home, he spent the afternoons reading up on what he had missed in the last year. And then we came back together.
During this crucial three weeks, did he have visitors, the French astronomers?
No, he spent the afternoon in the library.
And you weren't with him then.
No. I spent the afternoon with my brother. Then we'd meet. My father and I had meals together, but noon meal out in Neuilly — near the hospital — and the others, at the hotel.
In the visits that you had with Lady Lockyer, Eddington, — when you say "the Eddingtons," I assume you meant his sister.
And with Max Wolf. Do you have any recollections of those meetings?
They were just — you know. Friendly. We did spend a day or two at Ilfracoombe with Lady Lockyer.
What was the name of the area?
That's the name of the town in Devon. It's Ilfracoombe. It was their summer place.
These were just very polite visits?
Oh yes, of course.
Did he consider them courtesy calls, or was this something he truly sincerely wanted to do?
No, he would have gone anyway. Since we didn't do any of these others, these were visiting friends. And back in those days, without the Jet Age and all, visits were more a formal thing, you know. And then, of course, he also wanted us to see Devon, and the principal thing I remember about Lady Lockyer, aside from the absolutely glorious roses, was, that she had strawberries and clotted cream for tea. Yes. And then we didn't spend the night with the Eddingtons. We just went out on the train to Cambridge during the day, and he showed us Kings and the Chapel and so on, and then we went and had afternoon tea with the Eddingtons.
What was your impression of Eddington and your father together?
This wasn't the first time I'd met Eddington, of course. There was one time, when I was about 10 years old, I guess, something like that, that it just happened that Eddington and Jeans were both in Princeton, and were there for dinner. I don't remember whether they stayed at the house.
This was about 1924-25?
Must have been about that time. I was about ten. And the reason I remember it was because this was the only time that Dad ever told me that I must be quiet and not ask questions. After dinner, they repaired to the living room, and I was told that I could come in, if I didn't ask questions, as they expanded the universe.
They expanded the universe! I was ten. This was just at the time the expansion of the universe was just coming in. And it was really an electric occasion, and of course, I sat there and didn't say a word and listened. Dad spent two or three hours the next day painstakingly explaining four dimensional space and space curvature and what not.
They were talking about the expansion of the universe in the mid-twenties.
The expansion of the universe. This was right at the beginning. It must have been about that time. It was just a hot new subject, and the ideas were just sparking back and forth, you know. I couldn't say what year it was, but I must have been about that age.
But it was before 1929?
Oh yes, definitely. Because by '29 I thought I was grown up, you know. I was 15. They wouldn't have worried about whether a young lady was allowed to come in the evening. It might have been 1925, 1 don't know, but it was about that time.
But I didn't appreciate it at the time, of course. I know, I had a great deal of difficulty with the idea of something more than three-space. But Dad was infinitely patient in explaining it the next day. But I had to be quiet and listen, that night.
I don't remember that my brother — no, I'm sure they didn't, the others didn't [attend]. He was aware that I was a little more generally interested intellectually than the others in the family. He encouraged us all to the top of our bent in whatever we were interested in, you know.
So your brother and older sister wouldn't have felt left out, of his interests and attention?
Oh no. Of course, this particular time, they probably weren't even interested. Henry was probably, either had lessons to do or was off playing soccer or something. I don't know, because we had very normal childhoods. School-oriented mostly.
Did your father ask you constantly what you were doing in school?
Oh yes, he was always interested in what we were doing in school.
Did he ever talk about the school system? What did he think of the school system?
Well, we went to private school. I went to Miss Fine's for 12 years. My sisters did too. Well, Lucy did. Elizabeth only went to formal schooling for four years. Her health was not such that she could. My brother went to Miss Fine's. It was coeducational through the 6th grade at that time. And then the Princeton Country Day School was founded, and run by Howard Murch, and it was an English-style boys' day school. It was a very good school, for middle years. In later years it went from I think the 4th grade through to prep school age. And then when he was ready for prep school, for the last four years, he went to Princeton Prep.
At that time, the public school in Princeton didn't have a very high intellectual level, shall we say.
Did your father ever talk about the lack of public education, in the area? Government education?
He was an aristocrat and an elitist in many ways, and he was a product of private education. So were his parents, of course. I don't think that it ever occurred to him that people of his class, so to speak, professors' kids, should or would go to public school. They would go to the most elite, intellectually. But I don't think this was a question of argument at all. Unless you positively could not afford it, you went to private school, because you got a better education. It was not a question of being socially elite — this was intellectually elite. It's a different matter. Because he was certainly not an elitist socially. But intellectually, as I said, the one thing he didn't tolerate was stupidity.
How about politics? You mentioned Wilson.
Oh, he was a Republican, of course.
At that time that meant quite conservative?
Oh yes. Of course he was conservative. And my Grandfather Cole was even more of a conservative. His wife, my step-grandmother [my grandmother died when my mother was born and he remarried three years later] Gammie was the only grandmother I ever had. Her name was Josephine McIlvaine Hewson Cole. She never voted because her husband did not approve of women voting. He was a conservative.
But no, my grandfather Russell was Theodore Roosevelt's pastor in the summer. Oh, they were conservative Republicans. And my parents did not argue about that. They were definitely conservative Republicans.
Did your father ever meet Teddy Roosevelt?
Did he ever meet Teddy Roosevelt! Very definitely. But it was his two younger brothers who were close friends of the Roosevelt boys, and spent a great deal of time [with them]. One day Uncle Alec got to talking about Teddy. I mean, President Teddy, not his son, who was a close friend of his. And in fact, they spent time in the White House visiting the boys.
His two younger brothers.
The two younger brothers.
But not your father.
No, because he was just enough older, he was maybe ten years older than the Roosevelt boys. He saw them in the summer time. They played tennis. But it wasn't like the younger ones. The younger ones were close friends, almost habitues over at Sagamore Hill.
But one time, Uncle Alec was telling some stories about President (T) Roosevelt, that I wish I'd had a tape recorder, because again, I can't remember the details, but they were really very interesting.
I'm more interested, of course, particularly in your father's recollections, if he was old enough to form any opinions about Theodore Roosevelt.
Oh, he thoroughly approved. Just as he thoroughly approved of the Kipling point of view. This was the era of the "white man's responsibility" for the less developed, parts of the world. He loved Kipling also. But it's the same general attitude. He thoroughly subscribed to that expansionist, Anglo-expansionist point of view.
So then it was quite a different thing when Wilson came to power. Was it merely a doctrinal difference?
No, the problem of Wilson was something else. There was the tutorial system, which was quite divisive in the faculty, but then there was a big argument about where they were going to put the graduate school. There were factions in the faculty, and Wilson at first had one opinion — and then he turned around and-changed his opinion 180 degrees. Furthermore, he said that such and such person on the faculty agreed with him. Well, now, that person disagreed completely.
You don't remember who that was?
No, and it doesn't really matter, but the point is that it turned out, a long time later, that Wilson had had a stroke at that time, and apparently, what he remembered was that the man agreed with him, not what his position had been.
But in that time, they didn't tell you when somebody had a stroke. It was kept secret. In fact, Wilson had a bad stroke while he was in the White House.
And it was kept secret.
Oh, this was another one?
This was when he was president of Princeton. And apparently this is what happened. But you see, the people on the faculty said that he was lying and that it was bad faith, and it split the faculty almost in two. You know, he worshipped Truth, Dad did, and just didn't forgive Wilson for what he did to Princeton, and he just didn't trust him at all.
Even after he knew he'd had the stroke? Or he did not know?
Oh, he didn't know that until years later. I mean it didn't come out till after he died.
This is something you just don't get nowadays at all. You've no conception, that Wilson might have been other than a completely perfect character.
You mean, he should have stepped down, when he had that stroke?
And yet he covered it up.
Well, this kind of thing then was supposed to be sort of disgraceful, you know, like mental illness was in general. And you just didn't mention it. I mean, if they'd even known he was ill, that would have been one thing, but it wasn't mentioned at all. So, you see, he got the credit among the faculty people for having changed his mind and being perfidious about it, and lying about who supported what — where probably the case was that he didn't remember.
And he preferred that to revealing his illness.
Well, I guess maybe he didn't know that he had [it]. He was confused mentally, and he probably didn't realize he'd done it. And then, of course, you couldn't go and tell him, "You said something else, and now you're saying something different."
Was this when your father was an instructor, or had he already become chairman?
He was chairman.
Yes, Wilson was president at Princeton from what? The tutorial system was put in about 1910 or '11. This was after my parents were married and living there. He must have been an assistant professor.
You wrote me a very interesting letter about the state of the astronomy department when your father returned from Cambridge. Through the years, until he became chairman. Could you possibly expand on that?
Well, it was a very simple business, actually. There were two instructors, he and Dugan. Since Dad had not yet returned from Cambridge,Dugan actually outranked him, in terms of when he became an instructor, though they were essentially at the same time, but Dugan had been there slightly longer than he.
Lovett was there for a while.
Yes, Lovett was the chairman, and then there were the two instructors. This was after Young retired.
There was a man named Mitchell there also. Did your father ever talk about him?
I don't remember his being mentioned one way or the other. But at this particular time, the department consisted of Lovett and two instructors. And then Lovett got called to Rice, and took the job, leaving the department with two young instructors. In those days, you didn't promote an instructor immediately and you certainly didn't make them chairman of the department.
Well, the powers that be knew, and Lovett also knew when he called Dad back, that eventually he was going to be department chairman. But since Dugan actually slightly outranked him, they couldn't promote him immediately and make him chairman over Dugan's head. So what they did was to put the department temporarily under the professor of mathematics.
Oh, what was his name? That was when he moved into the astronomy house. And so, up until about Dad became department chairman about 1920, was it? I don't remember. Maybe it was earlier than that. Was it in 1912?
No, he got his full professorship in 1920. That's right.
He became chairman before he had his full professorship?
Oh, I didn't realize that.
Let me see, when did he get the research professorship? 1927, because that was a present from the class, endowed.
The class of 1897.
Yes. Could that have been '22? No, I think it was '27. I don't remember. I remember his getting his promotion to professor. No, he was department chairman when he was an assistant professor. But they couldn't do it immediately, so there was an interim, when the mathematician was titular head of the department, so that then, both he and Dugan got promoted to assistant professor the same year.
What was your father's relationship with Dugan or with the mathematics department, during this time? Did he recall it as an uncomfortable time?
No, I don't think so. He and Dugan were always good friends, and Dugan was a perfect angel. He didn't mind doing the departmental administration.
This was much later, though. Or did Dugan always do the administration?
He always did most of it, yes.
Even in 1912?
Well, I'm not sure about that. But Dugan was delighted to — he didn't mind doing it. And of course, it wasn't a big department. And Dad was glad to have the freedom not to do it. I think they always got along, together fine.
When Dad had his offer from Harvard, I guess it was —
This was the one he discussed most, thought about hardest.
He also had an offer from Yale about this same time.
Yes. But he didn't have so much trouble turning that one down. One of his conditions for staying at Princeton was that the observatory house be given back to the astronomy department — the mathematicians had been in there ever since — for Dugan's use. He could have gotten the house any time for himself, but he wanted to live in his own home.
On Alexander Street.
Yes. So this was in 1920, he finally got the house for the Dugans, and they lived there then until Dugan retired.
Does the house on Alexander Street still exist?
No, it doesn't. When we broke up the estate, the house was sold to the university. The house was old and in bad shape, and the valuable thing was the land. That was a big piece of property. The university intended to remodel it and use it temporarily for a girls' dorm, but when they went in and got bids on the remodeling, they found it was going to cost $150,000, so they tore it down. I could have told them, I had struggled to keep the house going when my mother was in a nursing home and all. The plumbing was worn out, the plaster was sour and wouldn't hold wallpaper, it needed a completely new water system, and new electricity and everything. It was built in 1854.
It was at least 100 years old.
It was more than that. The family had been there for 99 years, I guess it was. But the construction was 12 inch thick brick walls. Try to put plumbing through that or electricity or anything! The main partitions were also 12 inch thick brick walls, and the secondary ones were six or eight inches thick, brick. It was very difficult. And then when you were finished, you had a Victorian house with 13 foot ceilings, and the living room was 16 feet wide and 32 feet long — and tremendous big rooms. It was a Victorian house with curlicues. And it wasn't very usable for anything. You couldn't remodel it.
Did your father take an interest in maintaining the house?
Did he take an active interest? Did he work on it at all?
Oh no, he didn't work on it himself. But oh yes, he took an active interest in it. In fact, all during the time, up until his retirement years, there was a regular schedule. One major thing was done every year. One room was papered or something like that. It was his home and his family home and he cared a great deal about it, but my mother ran the place, of course.
Yes. What about the family finances? Your mother ran that too?
No, that was a very interesting and complicated procedure. She actually had probably more income than he did, because her grandfather was a lawyer who (her mother's father) was a millionaire in the law, back when you had no income taxes and what not. He had seven children, six of whom grew up, and since my mother was an only child (her mother died when she was born), she got all her mother's share. Her father was the trustee, and he managed things very frugally, so she had a good inheritance.
They divided things very interestingly, so that she took care of some expenses and he took care of other expenses. He, for instance, paid the educational expenses for the children. She paid the household help. Some things they did jointly. But it was all categorized, so to speak. She took care of some. They each took care of their own charity, but they had things split up. He paid for the coal for the furnace. I think he paid for the major things like painting, but the general household upkeep, she paid for.
How about allowances for you and your brother and sisters?
Oh, we had allowances.
Were they ever restrictive? Were you encouraged to work?
Oh, goodness, no. People didn't work!
I mean, in a structured community like Princeton, where there was a large Negro community and a large Italian community.
At the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, there were four slaves in New Jersey and two of them were in Princeton. There was always an old large Negro population, and we always had Negro servants. You were taking the bread out of somebody else's mouth, if you worked. People needed it much more than you did.
No, we started out with five cents a week. It was restricted, yes, when you had five cents a week, two cents went to church. One cent, you saved. Two cents, you could spend. But we were taught to manage money very early.
By your father and mother?
Mostly by mother. But Dad agreed thoroughly. But she gave us finance lessons, so to speak. She taught us how to shop, but I was the one who liked to shop best, especially food shopping, so I went with her shopping more often. I learned how to be purchasing agent, because I enjoyed it.
What part of it did you enjoy? Organizational?
No, I just enjoyed learning how to buy food and what was good value and how much things cost, and enjoyed shopping. It was just something I enjoyed doing.
This was an activity that you associated with your mother.
Oh yes, entirely with Mother.
Then as we got older, allowances got bigger. By the time we got to high school age — and I think it's an excellent idea, I did it with my own children — we had dress allowances. I had $25 a month and so did my brother and sisters, and we were supposed to buy our own clothes. With big things, you could have help in picking things out. But we were on allowances which were, from the time we got to be high school age, we were supposed to handle our own purchasing of clothing and miscellaneous things, and gifts and so on. This was part of education, and it is excellent education. I did the same thing with my own children, and they learned a great deal too.
Did you or your brother or sisters ever, through capriciousness, spend your money unwisely?
And how did your parents react to that?
"That's too bad."
Was there any scolding, or was it your own life?
Well, no. My sister was more likely to do it on clothes than I was. If she spent the money for something more expensive than she should have gotten, and then couldn't buy a new formal, then she had to go in her old formal, that was all.
Something more basic like toothpaste, were you responsible for your own personal items?
When we got to college, we were, but as long as we were living at home, those things were household.
So it was primarily dress.
Well, dress, shows, entertainment, gifts. I mean, any of the kind of expenses that kids will have. Not soap but cosmetics, yes, those things would be.
I was thinking in terms of essentials.
Oh no, the essentials, things like that were part of the household. This was for your personal expenditures, and this was, as I said, largely a teaching thing. It's an excellent idea. It works fine. Our kids learned a great deal, too.
This is in the evening, 9 o'clock in the evening, having a rather long session.
Well, we were talking about a very interesting topic, and that was, how your home life gave you preparation for life in general, and the handling of money. Were there other elements of your home life that were as directed and as positive as that?
Well, of course, there was always the very positive emphasis on doing well academically, and certainly there was never any discouragement of females because they were females. I always knew I could do anything I wanted to. If I wanted to be an archeologist, that was just fine. Of course, we were expected to go to college. It was one of Mother's great regrets that she had had to "come out" in New York, instead of going to Smith the way her cousins did, so that we were definitely going to college, all of us. Except my invalid sister, who couldn't. At the same time, the ideal of being a wife and mother was always held us as the good.
By your father or mother or both?
Both. I mean, this was the Christian household and so on. This was the fulfillment in life. But you should also obviously fulfill yourself intellectually. Mother was always extremely delighted with her role in life, and never quite understood how Dad managed to choose somebody who wasn't as brilliant as himself, but that was her attitude, and she was always very grateful. They were devoted. Absolutely devoted to each other.
Actually this financial training was not something that was unique to my parents, but my mother was trained the same way. Her father was extremely careful that she knew how to handle money, and her mother taught her how to purchase and all. After all, she had inherited money from her mother, and she should know how to handle it herself. Everything was turned over to her when she was 18. He advised her. But she had had good conservative training in the handling of money. He gave her three pieces of advice: never go into partnership with a friend; never do business with a relative; and never lend more money than you can afford to consider as a gift.
All of these, for a woman particularly, were extremely good advice financially. We got those quoted to us many times.
He was very careful that she should be well trained financially.
There was a Puritan background in your mother's side of the family?
Oh, my father's mother's family, and both sides of my mother's family were New Englanders. I've got assorted Mayflower ancestors and so on. In fact, Mother and Dad have one ancestor in common, Thomas Lord, who was the official interpreter to the Indians of Massachusetts (Bay) colony, the old Colony, and who translated the Bible into Pequot, I think it was. He is in both genealogies.
Is there an established genealogy?
Oh, I have a lot of genealogical material. His aunt with whom he lived, was a member of the DAR and of the Society of Mayflower Descendants, and you have to prove your inheritance, so that I have that side. I don't have very much from the Russells, who came from Canada. I have a lot from Mother's mother's family, because one of her aunts, one of her mother's sisters, also was interested in genealogy, and when she was doing it for her own children, she also did it for my mother. She has some but not so much from her father's family, but they were Rhode Islanders and I know quite a bit about them anyway. Always there are some branches you can trace better than others, and it's easier to do the male lines, except that one of her ancestors in her mother's family was her great-grandmother, and she lived to be almost 99 — and Mother knew her. She was born in the year of the Terror — the first white baby in Genesee County, New York, where Rochester is. She was born in Stockbridge and came across the ice on the river when she was six months old. So that, when you have very old people, you have more hold on these things. We went to see the family burial ground, when we were at the Rochester meeting. My sister was living in Alfred, New York, at that time. Victor was where the burial ground was. She was at Alfred, New York, my brother-in-law was head of the sociology department there.
The family was very much interested in their roots, and so I have quite a lot. All the genealogical material is here, which the family had in dispatch boxes downstairs. Some of it's easy to trace and some is not.
But the material is available, present.
Well, in some lines, it's good, in some it isn't. Some is rather lacking. And I have some from Frank's family too. Again, his aunt was interested, and it's rather spotty. In her family I've got much more. His mother was a Kelley — the Kelleys came from Ireland four generations ago, I think, and it's very scanty. Except they were long-lived people, but when I go back of great-grandparents, I can't do anything with it. I never really tried.
I have enough of relatively directed questions. But also, I'm very interested in following something of a chronology of the experiences that you had on various trips with the family, and how these trips were organized, where you met other astronomers with your father, and the times that you spent the summers at observatories, what your recollection of his role and relationship with other astronomers was?
Well, we spent three summers at Flagstaff, in 1927, 1931 and 1934, and it was in '34 that Frank and I met.
As I said, he [Russell] loved the area. The first time Mother went out with him was in '22, and she just went to California for a short time, and they stopped at the Petrified Forest and in that area. That was a short trip. 1927 was the first time we went out, and we lived in part of the Lowell House, courtesy of Mrs. Lowell, and in the old library. There was too much of our family for any one house that was up there. So we were guests of the observatory, and he had an office down in the main building. In fact, he was the only visitor who was ever allowed to use Percival Lowell's office — again, courtesy of Mrs. Lowell. So he always had Percival Lowell's office when he was there. Because everything that had to do with Percival Lowell was a shrine. You know. And Mrs. Lowell lived a long time. But things had to be just the way he left them.
Oh, I see.
But Dad was different, you see.
How did she appreciate that? Was it through the staff?
Oh, well, no. I think he had known Lowell. I'm not sure but I think so.
Did he ever speak of Lowell?
I can't remember particularly. I don't know, he must have met him, I think. She, [Mrs. Lowell] of course, knew of his reputation. And she clearly was delighted that he liked the observatory, and wanted the Lowell work to be known, and so on.
Anyway, because she decided that this was a good thing, we got to stay there, in part of the house, as well as the old library.
Then, that first summer we had the use of the observatory Model T. and Fred Cogshall, who was out there at the time, taught Dad to drive, and it's amazing that we all survived. Because he just didn't exactly concentrate on driving. He had to look at the scenery and so on.
He hadn't known how to drive up to that time?
No. We had a horse and buggy. Horse and surrey. But in those days, there was not a single square inch of paved road in the whole of northern Arizona. It was all gravel, or red clay or what have you, which became gumbo when it rained. And there was almost no traffic, so that unless you managed to upset yourself or something, you were in little danger.
We went on a number of camping trips. We would usually go out for about four days at a time, four or five days at a time, depending upon where we were going. If we went up to the Grand Canyon, which we did two or three times that summer, we'd camp for about three nights, just go along the rim. He used to love to just sit and watch the light change. None of this fast business. He took lots of pictures, too. But mostly he just liked to sit and look.
Just as he was at the beach, watching the effects of the tide.
Oh yes. He always loved to have distant views.
Did you ever have times when you sat out at night and simply looked at the stars?
Did he tell stories about them?
Did he talk at all?
Oh, sure. But just informational. Or admiring the beautiful night or something.
Do you recall anything that he ever told you about the stars on those occasions?
Not particularly. But of course, you know, when you're camping, there's a lot of setting up camp and unsetting camp and so on, and the business of camp cooking and all. But we had lots of fun.
Then, when we didn't go camping, unless it poured rain we would go out every afternoon, or sometimes in the morning, because that countryside is so full of lovely places to go. One day we'd go to Sunset Crater. Another day, we'd go to ruins, hither and yon, and in those days there were none of the national monuments and you could pick up potsherds anywhere. Or we'd go down to Oak Creek. He loved geography. He had all the maps, and would map out all the places we should go.
When you came into the Indian ruins, had he done his homework ahead of time, was he aware of the types of civilizations that were there?
Did he ever try to do any active work on Indian ruins?
No. He just enjoyed it. Went and looked.
To identify one little piece of pottery?
No, not particularly. And besides, the things in that area are all about the same period. The surface ruins around Flagstaff include a few pit houses, but most of them are surface pueblos, that date after the Great Drought, when they, the Anasazi, moved out. Though there are cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon, but they're small cliff dwellings. Oh no, we had to go and explore all those places.
In 1920 something or other, before I'd been out there, or maybe it was '22, Mother and Dad and the C.0. Lamplands and the S. Sykeses [of Lowell Observatory] went on a camping trip up in Marsh Canyon, and went to Betatakin, and Keetseel, on horseback, and had a lovely trip. It's Marsh Canyon, and it's now Betatakin National Monument. Betatakin is the name of one of the cliff dwellings and the other one is Keetseel.
Who was your father especially close to there at Flagstaff, the Lamplands?
The C.0. Lamplands and the U.M. Sliphers and the Sykes, and E.C. Slipher went along on some of these trips. Some of them were observatory parties, and we had several. The longest trip we took that year was up to Lee's Ferry, which was before there was any bridge across the Colorado. There were no bridges across the Colorado at that time, from way up north, down to Needles. You crossed at Lee's Ferry, and there was a Mormon settlement on the other side of the river. Took us 17 hours to go the 170 miles, when we came back. But on that trip we also went out to the junction of the Little Colorado and the Big Colorado Canyons. It's a very inaccessible place, even now. This is upstream, where the two join, where Marble Canyon and the canyon of the Little Colorado join to form the Grand Canyon. It's in very much the same area where those two planes crashed, some years ago. There was a collision of two planes over the Canyon.
But at this particular time — we had a guide — and we were only the fourth party that had ever been out there. Except Indians, no doubt. We camped about ten miles from the junction in a sheepherder's hut, and then went out the next morning, and had a picnic breakfast out there, and admired the world and took pictures.
These were the astronomers from Flagstaff?
These were the people from the observatory. And at that time, the E.C. Sliphers and her sister were along too. And let me see, there were a couple of young men, too, who were working at the observatory, the Bennetts.
The Sykeses loved to go on these trips, and at different times we went different places with them. In '31 we went up to Bryce and Zion, on a camping trip. My uncle went along on that trip. My minister uncle Gordon M. [Russell]. And when we went to Monument Valley in '27, the Sykeses went along.
How were decisions usually made as to where to go and how to camp, where to pitch tents? Did your father take an active part in all that?
Oh yes. He made the decisions. And my brother had to have his two bits worth, of course. But no, Dad took the lead in this. Mother did the mechanics of the cooking and so on, but Dad and Henry set up the tents. We didn't have a tent except for dressing. We used sleeping bags or blanket rolls. The men folks did most of the mechanics. But we all worked, of course.
As best you recall, I'm interested in the relaxed relationships between your father, the Sliphers and certainly other astronomers. Is there anything that comes to mind? How did he treat them?
Oh, they were colleagues. But he was always excited about all the work they'd done there, which had not been published at all, and people in general didn't know what they were doing. He kept egging them on to publish, to get out to meetings, and encouraging them, just as he did astronomers anywhere else he visited. But at that time they were so isolated. People didn't stop there, and so he did push them out into the astronomical world, so to speak.
Did he continue these trips?
Oh yes. He stopped there almost every year.
Then he went out to Mt. Wilson.
Then he went out to Mt. Wilson. They always looked forward to seeing him. I think he probably was a bit closer to Lampland than to the Sliphers. The Lamplands were just lovely people. In fact, Lampland was at Princeton for a year in 1928. It was an exchange. I forget who was out there. Dugan was there in Flagstaff for the year. And the Lamplands were in Princeton. As I said, he was sort of an honorary uncle of mine, and I used to go and haunt the kitchen. Mrs. Lampland made wonderful cookies.
Did you ever talk to Lampland about astronomy, about the Lowell Observatory as it was at the turn of the century, when he came?
Oh, occasionally. He would have stories, and, of course, Sykes would have all kinds of stories. He was the instrument maker, and was a fascinating man. He lived to be in his nineties. He and his brother came to Arizona in the middle 1880's, younger sons of a British baronet, and they came for their health. When they got to the border of the Apache country, the marshal met the party, and he wanted to know how many guns they had. And they said they had several, rifles and some hand guns. He said, "Well, all right then, you can go ahead, but always wear your guns in full sight and never let an Injun get behind your back."
This was the middle 1880's, and the Apaches were not exactly calmed down. There are all kinds of lovely stories about the really old days at the Lowell Observatory, and I'm sure Frank could tell you some of them.
Did they ever talk about the problem of Mars and Lowell's work on Mars?
Oh yes. Many many times we admired E.C.'s Mars pictures, and as I say, Dad always encouraged them. Of course, at that time everybody thought there were canals on Mars. They weren't convinced that they were man made or Martian made or anything of that sort. But everybody thought there were canals on Mars.
Your father along with them.
Did your father ever talk about what he thought they were made out of, or composed of? Did he talk with the Lamplands or Sliphers about this?
Oh, I'm sure they must have. With the apparent change in seasons and all. They were quite convinced there must be water on Mars.
Did your father ever talk about W.W. Campbell?
Some. He knew him, of course.
There was a series of very poignant letters between your father and Dr. Campbell.
When he was losing his sight?
Yes, during that period. And all of these letters, which I found in your father's collection, deal with Mars.
Oh, is that right?
Yes, I was wondering if you had any recollections.
I remember vaguely that he did have this prolonged correspondence. I'd hear about another letter from Campbell or something of that sort.
How did your father seem to react about it?
I don't remember that he reacted particularly strongly in any direction. I mean, he was always so involved with so many people, that it was normal for him to be involved with dozens of people at the same time. A lot of that sort of thing stayed at the observatory anyway. Most of the work he did at home was on his spectra.
Can you recall any conversations about Campbell that Russell would have had with Slipher or Lampland?
No, I don't really recall. Actually, I wasn't in on it; when he was working at the office. When he came home we'd go out, you know, in the country.
And at that time the conversation would turn to archeology, camping — birds —
Yes, or flowers, mountains, anything. We even persuaded Mother, I did, up to the top of San Francisco Peaks one time.
That's getting way up there.
Well, at that time there was a brief period when there was a road that went up, not only to the Saddle, but then around on the inside of the Crater up to the Saddle, between Humphreys and Agassiz, where the top of the ski lift is now. And the road went up to 12,000 feet.
One time, it was a very steep road in cinders, we went up with the Lamplands one time, and on the last switchback, we all had to get out and push the car.
Oh my, at 12,000 feet?
Yes. In the loose cinders. It was only about a thousand foot climb, but it was rough. Big chunks of lava all along the top. And at that altitude. Mother felt the altitude. Dad and my brother always loved the altitude. My invalid sister and I always loved to be at high altitudes. My sister Lucy had trouble with the altitude. I think she didn't go up all the way. She opted out.
But, a few steps at a time, I finally got Mother up to the top. And there you had the whole world to admire. That's what Dad liked best — to be on top of a mountain, or looking out over the ocean. He liked these big wide open spaces.
He must have liked Mt. Wilson, then.
Oh yes, he loved it.
Did he seem to change in attitude, when you took these summer trips away from Princeton, when you went to Mt. Wilson, when you went to Flagstaff?
No. Not really...
He never felt like he was a visitor, as opposed to a person in his own domain?
What was the attitude like at Mt. Wilson? How was he treated there?
Well, that was the only time I visited there, and we were up in Kapteyn Cottage. Oh, he was obviously an honored member of the family. And was again a very favored guest among some of the ladies, when he'd be out there for a couple of months every year.
Because of their children?
Well, yes, and also they liked to have him come and call. He was a good conversationalist, and they always loved to have him come. And for anybody who knew nothing about athletics, he had the rare privilege (which he didn't appreciate) to go with, I think it was Hubble, I'm not sure if it was Hubble or Adams, to the Rose Bowl Game. The famous year, where they played Georgia Tech, and the Georgia Tech man — no, it was the California man ran the wrong way and scored a safety, for the opposing team, and the game was lost because of this, and Georgia Tech, mockingly, offered him an athletic letter.
Anyway, he was at that game. It's the only football game that I know of that he ever attended.
Did he talk about it afterwards?
Oh, he wrote about it. Here he was at this game and he didn't even appreciate what was going on. But he did like baseball games. He enjoyed seeing baseball games. Adams and Hubble were his close friends, and I think it was the Hubbles he'd gone with but I'm not sure.
What were his letters like, back from Mt. Wilson?
Mother would just read little bits. Just saying that he had gone to see the Adamses and had had dinner there, or the scenery, or — I don't know. He wrote to the children, once a week or something. He would scale it to what he thought we'd be interested in. So it was likely to be scenery or something of this nature.
Did he ever talk about Hollywood or Los Angeles or anything like that?
Oh no. In those days, Pasadena was a peaceful little town, beautiful clear air, and full of orange groves.
Of course, some of the letters would be about our interests, too, responding to what we'd written. But it was just family and scenery. There was never anything about the scientific things. That was just a different world.
I don't imagine he excluded the scientific world from you.
Oh no. But I mean in letters. This was not a part of what he put into family letters. When he wrote a professional letter, I'm sure it was all science.
Oh certainly. But I mean, with his family, did he keep his astronomy pretty much to himself, during these years?
No, not really. If you asked questions he'd be delighted to expatiate. But he didn't say, "I'm doing this that or the other thing."' He must have been doing lots of different things at any one time.
Oh, and occasionally he'd say that he'd been working with Saunders or something of this sort. He did a lot of work with Saunders. That was one of my favorite places, to go and see the glass blower over in the physics building — the glass blower made the most delightful animals and glass flowers and what not.
But this was here, of course. Saunders was at MIT.
Yes, he did work with him. But this was the man in physics that he did so much with, at Princeton.
Yes. Allan Shenstone. I used to love to go over to that building.
One other of my favorite haunts was Guyot Hall, the geology museum. It was the geology department. We used to refer to that building when we were young as "The Birds and Bones and Shells and Stones." It was a museum. And there were dinosaurs, and there was a model of a lake dweller village, and there was a lovely room which they finally closed to the public, and I was always sorry when I got older, which was full of teratological embryos, human embryos, with all these awful, things wrong with them—which I thought was fascinating.
But we used to love to go over there. He'd take us over. Or later we'd go by ourselves.
How did he usually introduce you to something like that? Did he have a firm grasp of everything that he was to show you, and then he presented to you an entire picture? Or did he let you roam around for yourselves? Did he keep the Socratic method?
Well, no, he would explain what things were. Of course, there were labels on them all, too. I don't remember the first time I went over there. But I think he did sort of take us around. And would obviously explain how old dinosaurs were, and so on. And with kids, sometimes it takes a bit of explaining, not that I think it did particularly with us. But one time when our daughter was in the first grade, I had at that time some Egyptian antiquities which a great-grandmother had gotten in Egypt. Oh, a mummy mask and some little statuettes and so on. And I took them up to "show and tell"—show her classmates, and emphasized how old they were. And one little girl's hand went up.
"Are they as old as my grandmother?"
And I assured her, they were quite a bit older than her grandmother.
Since then I've given them to the museum here. The art museum. Which is why I don't have them any longer. I thought it much more useful for them to have them than for me to have them in the back of the drawer.
What kind of contact did you have up to your marriage, up to the mid-thirties, with your father in the department at Princeton and the other Princeton astronomers? Did they often come over to Alexander Street?
No. But we would run in and out of the observatory. It was a small place. Stewart and his wife, of course, were somewhat younger. In fact, I attended their wedding. And Jill Stewart's father was a professor of English at Princeton, so she was the daughter of an old friend. Things were much more formal in those days. You didn't visit informally so much. You "went to call" or something of this nature. But you saw people at church. You saw them uptown. No, they were all good friends.
During this entire period, your father retained the chairmanship.
Dugan actually was doing the daily work of the chairman.
When you have a three man department it wasn't that much, you know.
But they must have had a tremendous amount of communication together.
I mean, I see this very much as the same sort of situation between Hale and Walter Sidney Adams, where Adams actually during the years spent more time doing the director's work because Hale was constantly doing other things.
Yes, that's right. But of course at Princeton, in the old observatory, before the house was torn down, it was much closer, because you just opened the door and you were in Dugan's house. So any time you went over there, Mrs. Dugan was likely to be around.
Sort of a family affair, then. Is this possibly a way to describe it?
Well, in a way, yes.
Yet there was the formality.
Well, I mean, life in general was more formal. You didn't just run in next door. But you did see people frequently. But you were more likely to invite people to tea. Or to dinner or something. Mother had tea every afternoon. Frequently people would be invited to tea. You put on your best bib and tucker and went to tea, and had polite conversation and tea and cookies.
But this was just that life was a little more formal than it is nowadays.
Who would you say were your father's closest friends? And the closest friends of your father and mother? Was there any differentiation? Did your mother have her friends, and your father have his friends?
Well, Mother had some friends that would have been somewhat different, because she was a member of the Present Day Club and bridge club. The Present Day Club was a ladies' club. And she belonged to a bridge club, and of course, these people were sort of cronies. But again, it was all, in a small town it was all the same group essentially. And then there were all the church people, in both churches. But in a small town, you knew everybody. Just as an example, there were two sets of spinster ladies in the Presbyterian Church who were known respectively as the Aunts and the Red Aunts. The Red Aunts had had red hair when they were younger.
These were the Duffield Sisters and the Stockton Sisters. And the Duffield Sisters had lived in our house when they were young. In fact, they were born there. Their father had been a professor. The Stocktons' brother had married and some of our friends were their nieces and nephews, and again, the brother of the Duffields had married, and we had classmates and friends who were the nieces of the Duffields. So they were the Aunts and the Red Aunts and everybody knew them that way. These were school friends.
How about your father's friends then — close confidantes?
Well, he had a number of friends. Allan Shenstone was a particularly good friend. I'm leaving people out that I should think of.
Well, now, David Webster wasn't at Princeton.
No, he was at MIT, but I'm thinking of people not necessarily at Princeton.
Maybe he was to start with, because he went to Stanford. He was up at Clark's Island, the first year we went there. He and Dad were both looking for summer places for their families. He had been Dad's pilot during the war. This is how they got to know each other to start with.
I didn't know that.
Dave Webster piloted him, the 50 or 60 hours he had in the Jenny.
When he was doing his navigation work?
Yes. And after they finished their day's work, then they'd stunt or loop the loop, do barrel rolls. With just a seat belt, you know.
Were you watching?
Oh, heavens no. This was down at Langley Field, Virginia, or in Texas. But we used to get letters, hear stories. He and Dave were good friends, and, of course, we knew them because we'd spent one summer there at the island. Also, there was another professor there that summer — Jock Scott.
That's his real name?
John? Jock was what he was called. Jock and Peggy Scott. They had two daughters my age, and the Websters had four kids, the oldest of whom was my brother's age and then there were two littler ones, and again a girl my age. So that year when I was six there were a lot of kids up there. We had a good time. Three professors. We went on these crazy expeditions. One time, we got stuck on the flats, and one time we went to Cut River and almost got stuck there, near Clark's Island. We almost got stuck there. Of course Dad had seen it on the map, so we had to take the motor boat through there, and it turned out that the chart was not quite right on depth, and you could only get through there at high spring tides for about an hour. And we almost spent two weeks there, but we just made it, out to the outside, before the tide went down.
How did your dad treat that situation?
We all pushed. With care. Mother sort of shrugged her shoulders and tore her hair and what not, "these crazy professors," you know. They were always leading each other astray. Well, she worried about all these little kids, you know, because the boat was full up. But she always said Dave Webster was leading him astray. I'm sure Dad was leading Dave Webster astray too. And he'd say, "Russell, let's go." Off they went.
From their correspondence, which spanned a relatively short period of time, and I haven't read it all, they had many grand plans together.
Oh, Dad went with him fishing off the Gaspe Peninsula one time. He had a marvelous time. I guess they did have an auxiliary motor, but it was schooner touring. They slept on the boat and they went up all the way around the Gaspe. Oh, he had a wonderful time.
How about W.D. McMillan? Does that ring any bell, Chicago?
Not particularly. But at Princeton he had other close friends.
Do you recall the names?
I should know perfectly well. One of the particularly good friends lived right across the street, the Coneys. And she was one of Mother's closest friends. They lived there all the time I was growing up. He was a professor too. Oh, most everybody was. But they were quite close friends. And there were some older.
He was quite close to several people in physics.
Shenstone is still alive, I understand. I was told this.
Last time I saw him was at a party they had for Charlotte Sitterly at the Bureau of Standards, the time she retired formally — I don't know, some years ago now. And I saw Shenstone then and had a nice visit with him.
Are there any others?
I know for instance that he corresponded regularly with Eddington.
Yes. Those were marvelous letters.
Oh, I'm sure they must be, because again, they set each other off. Eddington was a quiet one, and wasn't so excitable as some of the other correspondents. He wrote regularly to a great many people, and always delighted to get, always in longhand, awful scrawls. He was always pleased to get letters. A lot of them, of course, went to the office, but some of them came to the house. The mailman used to drool over the stamps.
Did anyone in your family collect stamps?
My brother did. His mother had collected stamps. Unfortunately, she wasn't very smart about how she put them in the album, because she cut off a good many of the edges, but some of them were really very old stamps. My son has the album.
There's a very lovely little collection of astronomical stamps, in your father's collection.
Yes. Those were stamps that were given to him. The series from Tonantzintla was given to him. He did sort of halfway collect stamps. That is to say, when we went to any foreign country, we would go and get stamps. But he was Scotch, and we got the small denominations, not the whole set. Well, there were exceptions. My son has most of these stamps because he is the collector. Dad happened to be in Rome, right after the Vatican became an independent area. So my son has a complete set of the first issue of Vatican stamps, which Dad had. And he was so excited when he looked at them. But it was pure happenstance. They weren't sent to him or anything of that sort. I don't remember what year that was. That may have been shortly before we were in Rome in 1929. It was some time in the 1920's.
Your father's youngest brother, Alexander, I believe, went to Europe quite early on, and sent back very interesting postcards.
He was over there with the A.E.F. The American Expeditionary Force, the Yanks. He was in business and he was financial officer, and he was actually over there after the end of the war, with the financial clearup crew, so that he went overseas in 1919, and was in France for about a year and a half. Then my other uncle, the minister, was in Europe during most of the war. He went over as a chaplain, and since we weren't in the war yet, he went over with the Canadians. He was in England, then later in France, as a chaplain. And he was over there from 1915 on. He sailed in the spring of 1915. Just before he left, I presented him (you know, a toddler) with a bunch of dandelions. And he had them in his cabin all the way to London. They must have been awful looking things. I presented him with "a bunch of dingalions." Which is what I called them at that age.
During the First World War — another small memory, I talked about early memories earlier — there were three airplanes stationed for training purposes in Princeton. They were Jennies, biplanes. And they were numbered, in those innocent days, numbers 1, 2 and 3. And of course, they flew low, and I could recognize the numbers. I was three or something. And for reasons known only to myself, I referred to these three planes as "1-1/2, 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 airplanes." So I would come running in the house and say, "I saw one and a half airplanes," and they knew I'd seen No. 1.
I don't know why I called them 1-1/2, 2-1/2 and 3-1/2. But I knew them apart, obviously.
You certainly couldn't have understood at that time your father's feelings about World War I, and the decisions by Wilson based upon his campaign promises, of course, to keep America out of the war. But did your father talk about this?
Oh, he talked about it at the time, and he talked about it later. Oh yes, we knew. As I said, the family was Anglophile and my governess was an Englishwoman. There was a lot of bitter comment at the dining table and what not about how we should be in the war and how we should be doing our bit, and letting the British and the French fight and how wrong it was. Oh yes, I heard it. And of course, that was gospel truth, naturally, we were doing the wrong thing and those-damned Germans and Irish!
Was he pointing a finger at Wilson?
What about World War II? And Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Well, he didn't love FDR. That was the "bad Roosevelt branch." And being New Yorkers, they knew the difference. I mean, Eleanor Roosevelt's father was a drunkard. She was a Roosevelt too. I think it was her father who was the drunkard. And of course, the Republican Roosevelts, Theodore Roosevelts, were family friends. But from the time I was aware of anything, I knew about those disgraceful other Roosevelts. Long before he was elected President.
Crowther recalls in his biography that your father referred to Teddy Roosevelt as "the last Puritan."
Were you the source of this statement, or did he take it from something your father said?
No. I don't think I was the source of that. It probably was from some letter or something. I heard him make the comment, but no, I don't think I passed it on.
He certainly didn't say the same thing about Franklin.
Oh, heavens no.
What about all the programs that FDR developed during the Depression? How did your father feel about the Depression and the government's reaction to it, and how we got into the Depression and Prohibition, all of these things, at the time? I'm just lumping everything political together, in that time period.
We never had wine in the house during Prohibition. My grandfather had laid in his claret, and he had his claret every night. And Dad and Mother both enjoyed wine. But they followed the law. When we were overseas, of course, we always enjoyed wine. That year, when we were in Egypt at Christmas, my brother and sisters were bugging him, "We really ought to have champagne for Christmas," and he finally broke down, and for seven of us, we had a half bottle. Christmas, 1929. But, a half bottle for seven people! No, he very much enjoyed Italian wine. Never in excess, obviously. But we would enjoy the wine wherever we went.
He was a conservative, of course, and he didn't approve of these social programs at all.
Did he feel something should be done about the state of the economy in the United States?
I don't think so particularly. I think, he'd lived through other depressions. Things would clear up sooner or later.
And about hostilities as they developed in Germany in the late thirties? You were not in constant contact with your parents by that time?
Oh, he was again very strongly pro-Ally. And thought we were very dilatory in getting involved.
Did your father ever talk about Trumpler? And Trumpler's feelings, which supposedly were pro-German in World War I?
I never heard him mention it at all. I don't think he knew Trumpler well. We knew him, of course, but he never had much to say about him.
Did he work at all with other American astronomers like Schlesinger in bringing people over in the thirties, emigres? I know that he tells the story about Rosseland, and that's a very poignant story.
Yes. Rosseland was with us. Oh yes, he was very much concerned about this, but I think Rosseland was about the extent of the personal involvement. Oh yes, they were very much concerned, and of course, from an earlier period, the White Russian emigres. Vyssotsky was a White Russian, and Struve. And Bobrovnikov, who's still living. Also has many stories to tell.
What about Einstein and Rupert Wildt? Certainly with Wildt he would have had a lot of contact in the astronomy department.
Oh yes. Yes.
Did you know Wildt?
Oh yes. Rupert was a very very close friend. He was on the AURA board along with Frank. No, Rupert was an extremely close friend. Of course, when he came over he was with Dad in Princeton.
Wildt was, yes.
Yes. And that was something that Dad couldn't do anything about, nobody could.
You mean, bringing him over?
No. Rupert was engaged to the daughter of a judge, and the Hitler business was such that it just didn't work out. She never got out. She was Jewish, yes.
Oh, I didn't realize that. Then his wife here was not his first wife?
Oh no. He didn't marry until very very late. Katherine is a lovely person. She was a widow, New Englander with grown family. I can't remember when he got married. He was only married about ten years. Katherine was just lovely. She still is. A lovely person and just wonderful for Rupert. But Rupert was on the AURA board also, and he was also president of AURA. He succeeded Frank as president of AURA. So we saw a lot of them. But of course, he had been a friend of Dad's anyway.
Actually, the first time I met Rupert was when we were first married, and were living in Flagstaff. Rupert and a young Italian astronomer from Trieste, Colacevich, were —traveling around, seeing the American observatories, and they came through Flagstaff, and we entertained them for a meal. They visited the Lowell Observatory, and this was in the spring, and our daughter was born in the summer, so I was quite obviously pregnant. Lampland was going to take the visitors to see Meteor Crater, which they wanted to see.
So we decided we'd like to go along, and Lampland was so worried about my going, being so obviously pregnant, and fussed about it. He was a dear man. And having fussed about it, he drove like Jehu and bounced the whole way! Obviously nothing happened.
What about Einstein? Were there any contacts between your father and Einstein, at Princeton?
Oh yes, they knew each other, it was just casually.
Your father never talked about him?
Oh, they'd see each other from time to time, but they weren't close friends. They'd see each other at parties and they'd talk. They may have talked science. I presume they did.
Could you tell which scientists your father respected the most? Looked to as the most significant contributors? During his lifetime?
That's an interesting question. I'm not really sure I could answer that. Eddington, he thought very highly of. Bohr, I know he had a very high opinion of, and Harry Plaskett was a friend. And of course Hubble and Adams.
What was your father's contact with Plaskett? Was this the Harry Plaskett in Dominion? Up in Canada?
There is J.S. Plaskett.
Wait a minute — it was J.S. Plaskett. He knew Harry first at the age where he made paper animals for him. So he was a long time friend. No, it was his father, J.S. Plaskett was an old friend. But he knew Harry from the time he was a tiny boy.
And they stayed in contact as Harry became an astronomer?
Oh yes. Sure. Of course, every year when Dad traveled around the country, he visited all the observatories he could get anywhere close to, and talked to the astronomers, you know.
First of all, of all the men in the astronomical community, and women, of course, what about his students, his own students? Who did he seem to feel made the most contributions? Who was he happiest about or felt most fulfilled?
Well, of course Harlow Shapley. I don't think he was so close to Menzel. But he always got along with him and his wife Florence. Their children were among those who got their noses bopped and so on. As babies. They got their noses bopped with the watch as babies.
And he was very fond of Cecilia Gaposchkin, when she first came over particularly — a very interesting and attractive young woman. Oh, there were just lots of people that he considered close friends, And I'm sure I'm leaving important people out.
Of course, E.W. Brown and F. Schlesinger were close friends. The New Haven neighbors.
Did he have contacts with Jan Schildt at Columbia?
I don't think a great deal. He wasn't certainly one of the close people.
Did your father ever talk about people he was disappointed in?
Well, as I said, when he knew people, he could always think of something good to say about them. When he didn't know them, then he would and could be critical.
Do you remember any cases where he was critical of people in astronomy?
I can't put the finger on it now, but I was thinking of it not necessarily in astronomy, but in the abstract he could be quite critical. If he thought somebody was stupid, then he'd say so.
Do you remember any instances?
They were most likely to be politicians.
He didn't love FDR, no. But he didn't think very much of the intelligence and what not of Harding, either. One of his particular friends — the dean of the graduate school, [they were lovely people] — was a good Republican, and his wife was a pillar of the Episcopal Church too. They both were. And when he heard that Harding had been nominated, he said, "Damn. Damn. Damn. Now we've got to get busy and elect him."
He was a good Republican. He would vote the party anyway.
What about Herbert Hoover, who was a very interesting person?
Oh, he highly respected Herbert Hoover, not only as a President, but more particularly because he headed up the food program during the First World War. We had his posters in the kitchen, and we did all our food conservation and so on and so forth. Oh no, he respected him very highly.
I have some directed questions, possibly I can ask you now, because the hour certainly is getting late.
Did your father have any favorite pastimes, other than the games that he would play with children? The origami. Hobbies, foods, entertainment, music?
Well, he liked to sing, but he wasn't a trained singer. His father had a very nice voice, and was a member and at one time assistant director of the Oratorio Society in New York, and he would go in every day for oratorio. But Dad didn't have really any training in symphonic music, and he didn't go to concerts particularly, but he loved to sing. Especially in church. Oh, Mother liked to go to concerts, and we always had concert tickets, usually two. They got shared around. She would take one of the kids, usually. And we would go periodically into New York to plays, once or twice a year. Or to the opera. Dad loved Shakespeare, and we would go to Shakespeare plays.
Did you have a radio at home?
Oh yes, we had a radio very early. One of his close friends in physics, [Walter] Roberts, built it. It was Roberts, anyway. He was an experimental physicist, and he built the set for him. We had a radio long before anybody else did. In general, we didn't have electric gadgets and so on. The house wasn't electrified until 1920. But we had a radio, and we spent lots of time, and later my brother had it and spent vast amounts of time listening, especially at night, and in those days, from New Jersey in the evening you could pick up Denver — great distances because there weren't many stations. So we did have a radio very early. But in most things, we got modern conveniences much later than anybody else, like an automobile. But we did have a radio early.
What did your father enjoy from a passive standpoint? It seems like everything we've been talking about, he took an active intellectual interest in.
He loved to read. And he loved art, of course, paintings and so on. And he liked to get out in the country. He didn't play too many cards. Of course in the evening, especially up at Clark's Island, we played games every evening. The kids, the whole family, used to do things. But they were mostly things like mah jong or hearts or what not. He wouldn't ever play a more complicated game, because he'got too involved in it.
That's very interesting.
And would spend too much time thinking about it. He didn't play bridge.
He didn't play chess?
Oh no. Again, he would have gotten much too involved in it. He played checkers. Things like jackstraws.
Why do you think that was?
Because he couldn't play it as a game. He'd have to think out all the possibilities.
That's how you win at chess.
Yes, I know, but he didn't want to put that much effort into chess. He didn't want to put that much effort into any game.
And yet, he seemed to have such a driving fascination for things of science and in the real world. He didn't consider these games part of the real world?
Oh yes, but he didn't feel that he could put that much of his time into it. He knew what the moves were, but if he went in for chess, then he would have gotten so involved, it would have taken time from other things which he thought were more important. But he did play checkers. I mean, we played cribbage. There were a lot of these parlor games. Oh, we had charades and just lots of these things that involved the whole family.
He liked family games.
Yes. But this was quite typical of the pre-radio period, that you did provide your own entertainment. Chess, I'm sure, was in the same category as bridge. He was quite specific about bridge. Even hearts he got too involved in. He would hold things up by thinking about it. Whereas my uncle, who spent his month's vacation with us every year, he was marvelous with children also. He could organize games. His Sunday School was three times as big as his church, and the kids followed him just like the Pied Piper. He was a good cartoonist, and loved children, and he was a very favorite character, not only with us. And since we were closest to Merchantville, near Philadelphia, where his church was, he always came to us on holidays, and usually spent his month's vacation with us.
We had lots of these parlor game things, Mother taught my brother and sister and me to play bridge, and we enjoyed that. But Dad would not get involved, because it just took too much of his time; If he had, he wouldn't play it halfway. He would have had to be totally involved, and he just didn't feel he had that much time.
After your marriage, of course, you left home. How did you stay in contact with your mother and father?
Oh, we wrote, just as we had when we were in college, but also, we spent almost every summer with them.
So you spent quite a bit of time.
And then, they'd visit here and we'd visit there. And when there were meetings in the East at Christmas, we went to Princeton. When there were meetings in this part, they came. They must have come and visited two or three times a year, and when the kids were little, we'd visit them several times a year. Then, as I said, most summers we were up in Rhode Island all summer with them.
So you maintained very good contact.
Oh yes, much more so than my brother and sister. My sister spent most of her married life first in Greece and then, where her husband was on the faculty of the American Agricultural School in Saloniki. And then, he was with UNRRA during the war, They were back as refugees. Then he was with the national headquarters of the Red Cross, and then he went back right after the war with UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation organization. First he was in Thessaly, and then later in Trieste.
Then after that, he had periodic intervals where he studied some more at Princeton, because he had a theology degree, and eventually he got a doctor's degree too. Then he went back to the American University in Cairo.
So they were home on leave about one year out of six or seven.
Would you say the relationship between your sister, your brother and your father was the same as yours with your father? Or was it different?
No, they were all different. My sister Lucy was particularly close to Dad. She was the oldest one and she was the apple of his eye. We weren't all treated the same way. My brother was very very much like my mother, and he was very close-mouthed about his own feelings. He wasn't so outgoing. It was a very dear, but not a very close relationship, if you know what I mean.
No, but he just didn't talk about the things inside him, his own feelings and so on. But when it came to the big exciting world, that was another matter.
Your father didn't really let his own feelings go either, did he?
No, he didn't. He was very very close-mouthed. Well, he talked freely about Auntie, his aunt with whom he lived, and his grandparents. But he never talked very much about his own parents. It wasn't that he wasn't close to them. Of course, they were both dead by the time I was born.
What about himself? Did he talk about himself? How he felt about himself?
Not too much, no.
As a scientist? His role in astronomy?
No. Though he was called as an expert witness in the famous Halls-Mills murder case, in New Brunswick, back in the 1920's. One of the things in the trial depended on the time of moonrise. Somebody had said something, it was moonlight or something, and he was called as an expert witness. Well, it turned out actually that he couldn't go, I think Dugan went. All they had to do was testify about the time of moonrise. But somebody raised the question, that if the lawyer asked him if he was a genius, what would he say? And he said, he'd have to say yes, because he was. This was what Dad said, that if he was asked the question, he would have to say: yes, he was a genius. Because he believed you had to be truthful in a court. But he knew. He didn't make a big thing of it at all. I thought it was interesting, enlightening, that he was well aware. I mean, you can't not be aware that you have certain gifts. You're expected to use them, too.
Did he ever expand on his role in astronomy, the progress of astronomy during his lifetime?
No. He was just so excited about knowledge in general. He was very excited about progress in astronomy, and all the new things. He would have been so excited about the solar system exploration.
Did he see it coming, that it was possible? I mean he certainly knew about the V-2.
I don't know that he really visualized that it would happen. But he would have been enormously excited about it, because he would say how wonderful it would be to get outside the atmosphere, to be able to see. He did see the first of the ultraviolet spectra, from the rocket spectra.
From the Aerobi High rockets. The ones that got up 250, 300 miles?
Yes. The first ones that went into the ultraviolet. They sent him some spectra, and he was very excited about them. But he used to say that when good astronomers die they would go to the Brick Moon — this is H.G. Wells' Brick Moon that was going to be built going around the moon. Because the Brick Moon was where good astronomers should go when they died.
Was there an element of seriousness in any of this sort of thing?
No, this was just the idea that this would be Heaven for astronomers, you see — to get away from the atmosphere and really be able to see.
That's an interesting reference to Wells. Did he ever make others?
Oh yes, he was very fond of Wells's works.
Any other science fiction writers? Jules Verne?
Oh, he liked Jules Verne too.
Wells might have been his favorite, do you think?
Well, he read voraciously. He even read a few detective stories. But since he had this photographic memory, and took the whole page in at once — he read really voraciously. It was incredible how fast he read — and things he liked, he'd read over and over again.
That's nice, to do that.
So I think his favorite recreation, really, aside from walking and getting out in the country, was reading. And he always loved good conversation.
How did you and your family see him in astronomy? Did your mother ever talk about him to you, when you were young children?
Of course, we all knew that he was special. And that all these lovely visitors came to see him, you know, important people. You know, there was one interesting thing about his view of the outside world, which again was diagnostic. He was extremely precise and accurate. When he would give directions, he would say, "Go northeast so far," and so on. But he didn't know his left hand from his right hand. And if he told somebody driving along in the car, "Go right," you had to figure it out. And I finally realized what the problem was, because I remember doing this when I was a very young child. I stood in the nursery, facing this direction, and I said, "That's my right side, and that's the left side," and I turned around and faced the other direction, and said, "Now, why is that the left wall?" A person-centered universe didn't mean anything to him. Because this was so impermanent, that the directions meant something, but a frame of reference which depended entirely on you was a subjective thing. It didn't mean anything to him. So left and right really weren't important.
He couldn't tell whether he was thinking in terms of the observer or the proscenium arch, as if on a stage?
Well, they just didn't define the world at all. Whereas if you gave directions, directions of the compass, that meant something.
At first I didn't understand how he could be so stupid, he didn't understand left from right. Then I realized just what the problem was, one day when I thought about this. I didn't discuss it with him. I finally figured out the answer.
But I was still in the nursery, I must have been two, three years old or something, but I remember very clearly this mental problem: Why, when I turned around, did the left wall change to the right wall?
That, is a very early experience for children.
But apparently a lot of people don't worry about it at all. But I've never heard anybody else have this problem. Clearly, it was what was wrong with my father.
It's a question of whether you're the center of the universe, Or you really start perceiving that you're a satellite around your mother, as you grow up.
There was never any question of that. I was the fourth of four children, all of whom were born in less than three years, and we were always a constellation, maybe, but I was never the center of the universe.
Well, in the case of your father, then, is there a chance that he never really made this transition?
Oh no, this was purely that he was much more objective. The way he saw the world.
No, the position of an individual didn't matter at all in the world. I mean, the physical position of an individual. And so it was meaningless to describe anything in the world in relation to the individual, the particular position the individual was in. Oh, he knew which was his left hand and his right hand, but as a direction, it meant nothing.
That's quite fascinating.
It sometimes had terrible results.
Did this continue throughout his life?
Always. We lived only about a block and a half from the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. And people would come in on the train, and he'd tell them to go right instead of left, which meant they wandered all over the Princeton campus. They'd finally find a telephone and say, "How do I get to your house?"
Now, in a boat he never was lost. He knew how to navigate.
Port and starboard.
Sure, and you go by the points of the compass.
Those meant something to him.
Of course, because that was a fixed frame of reference.
How did he feel about relativity then? Did he ever talk about it? With you?
Oh yes. He explained it.
Relativity plus the expanding universe?
Well, this didn't worry him. The thing that concerns me, when he was explaining these things, was, I just didn't like these uncertainties. The uncertainty principle [in Quantum Mechanics] coming in and all. Of course, kids always like to have things, a definite answer.
How did your father try to explain them to you?
Well, he explained probability. And I didn't like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I didn't like having things running down. I didn't approve of it!
How did he introduce the Second Law to you? Did he give you a physical analogy, or did he talk historically about how it was developed?
No, he just explained it.
Just as it is in textbooks.
Yes. Sure. Except he was very good at explaining.
How was your father's health?
In general, aside from when he got overloaded, his health was quite good. He was very rarely really ill, until he got old.
This was in the 1940's and '50's or primarily in the fifties?
Well, he had a severe coronary in 1943.
Oh, I didn't know that.
He died in '57. 14 years before he died. Before that he just went like mad. And he undoubtedly lived much longer because he had that coronary. After that, he learned he had to look after himself.
Is this coronary generally known? Because I've never heard about it.
Oh, I'm sure it must have been. He was visiting my invalid sister in Colorado at the time. I'm sure they knew about it. But he recovered very well. And then he just learned that he had to go slower, and rest in the afternoon.
The thing that was much more obviously disabling, though it wasn't really disabling, was when he developed, when he was 70-ish, hardening of the arteries leading to the semicircular canal. He'd have these sudden spells of dizziness. Not exactly dizziness — he would just lose all sense of up and down, and he would go down in a heap wherever he happened to be. And one time, he had one of these while he was crossing a stone wall. Luckily, he never hurt himself seriously, but after a while, the doctor persuaded him he'd better carry a cane, so if he did get dizzy, he would have something to steady himself. It was a circulatory thing, and it would hit occasionally.
This really wasn't disabling, except that it would hit all of a sudden.
How did he feel about it? He must have known, as a very old man, that things were literally coming to an end. Did he philosophize about it?
Did he rationalize? Did he look back over his own life?
Oh yes. He outlived both his parents by a considerable amount. His mother's family all died very young. They all died before they reached 60. And many of the Russells lived to be in their eighties, but several of them became senile, so he never felt badly about some frailties. He just knew he had to look after himself. And having had this coronary, he learned to look after himself, and enjoyed life, and even when in the last year, when he was old and was really going downhill — he still liked to see things move, and he would watch the pendulum on the clock.
But the first time I ever heard him say that anything was too much for him intellectually was when he was about 75, and I said something about some modern mathematics, and he said he was too old to learn that.
And I thought, my goodness, if anybody can reach the age of 75 without ever coming up against anything intellectual they couldn't handle, they've done a lot.
But that was the first time I'd ever heard him say anything like that. We never had an encyclopedia in the house. He knew all the answers.
Of course, he kept right on working. He had one little paper in press, when he died.
"Variables in the Magellanic Clouds?" That was one of them?
I don't know whether that was the one that was published. It was something with John Merrill,
I'm not absolutely sure about that. I don't remember what it was. It was a little short paper that came out after he died.
But he was working more on the binary stars in those last couple of years. The person I think he got most irritated with was Kopal.
Because he made so many mistakes and expected Dad to correct them.
Kopal started working in the thirties, of course, and he began working intensively in binary work in the late thirties.
Yes. Well, he got more than a little irked with him. But especially because he'd send these long manuscripts for Dad to look over and they were full of mistakes, and he expected Dad to correct them. And Mother would get very annoyed, because Dad had very limited strength at that point. This was in the fifties. So Mother considered him in the pest class.
Your father was invited by Shapley to Harvard in the 1950's, after your father's retirement, and he was sort of a visitor and spiritual advisor.
Yes. He did that for several years and enjoyed it very much. He would go up for a period of several weeks and talk to students, and go with Hollow Squares and generally just stimulate things, the way he had done. He started doing that when he could really no longer go West. He continued going there, Mt. Wilson, until, when was it? The last year Mother went with him. It was the year after he retired. They spent part of the winter at Lick. And she broke her wrist.
Yes, they were with the Shanes at that time.
Well, they had their own apartment up on the mountain.
Yes, but they were very close to the Shanes.
Yes, very close. Mary Shane was a particularly good friend.
I had heard about that, that your mother broke her wrist.
Yes, she stumbled in downtown San Jose. She stumbled on a curb and broke her wrist. It was a perfectly straightforward break and it healed up all right, but it was a little inconvenient, keeping house with a broken right wrist. But the most difficult part about it was my father's part of the affair: he had to comb and braid her hair. And he was enormously proud of her hair. She had beautiful long heavy hair, and she wasn't about to have it cut. But when he had to comb it, that was something else again. They both suffered. But she still had her hair when the arm was all healed up.
If we could go back just for a few things. What was your father's feeling for Shapley's political interests in World War II? Do you ever recall them talking about it together?
No, I don't recall that. I think that he felt that Shapley was a little bit rash, on getting carried away by his enthusiasm. But I never heard him say very much about it.
OK. Then all the way back to his war research in World War I. He certainly talked about this in later years with you from time to time, recollections of his contribution?
Oh yes, he enjoyed the flying enormously. While he flew in later years occasionally, Dave Webster took him up several times in his own plane, he never really became reconciled to a plane that had a closed cockpit. He liked to have the wind blowing past him.
But he enjoyed that very much, and he was very expert at shooting the sun with that octant from a Jenny. There was one particular experiment that they did, where he was sitting backwards in the back seat, shooting with the octant down. I don't know whether it was down in the clouds or not, but between his legs, with just the seat belt holding him in.
That takes a bit of nerve.
Fun, fun, fun. Oh, he thought it was lots of fun. And if they didn't have quite enough speed to take off, the runway ended in the bluff over the James River, and it was about 50 feet above the water, and the slight drop was enough to give you air lift.
Of course, they didn't fly at night unless it was moonlight, because there was no navigation. But after he developed the first artificial horizon and so on — there was one day that they wanted to try things out. One day when the fog came in, there were low clouds and clear above. This particular day, the commanding officer came, said, "Russell, what are you going to do today?
He said, "Well, we're going to fly on such and such a heading inland for a mile and a half," or whatever it was, I don't know how far, "and set down at such and such a point."
The commanding officer said, "You're crazy. You can't do it. Nobody could do it."
So they took off, and they set down within a quarter of a mile of where they said they would. The man was absolutely amazed. This was the first time they'd really tried out their system. This was the first time it had ever been done, with a cloud deck.
That takes quite a bit of nerve, to test it out like that.
Well, he had complete confidence in Dave Webster, who had complete confidence in himself, and he knew his system would work.
What do you think your father felt was his most important contribution during his scientific career? He said a little bit about this in his autobiographical sketch. I was just wondering if you had an impression.
Well, I don't really know.
Did he ever talk about the HR Diagram?
Well, of course, and the solar abundances was something that he felt was important.
And he was continually interested in the spectra. He just loved analyzing a spectra. It was just like a super puzzle. That was almost like a hobby. He just loved doing it all over this big round table. The poor maid, she wasn't allowed to touch anything.
No. To dust? Oh, he would just hit the ceiling if anything was moved. Then he couldn't find it.
OK, I have a few questions that I just wrote down from the Crowther book.
He stated that, your father worked in the first year at the Cavendish Laboratory, while he was at Cambridge. I wasn't aware of that. Do you have any recollection of that? I'm sure he derived that from something your father said.
I really don't know.
OK, I'll have to see what that means, because that may mean that he took courses. With people in the Cavendish. So I'm not sure.
Crowther also said: "The Anglo-Catholics, agnostics and Tories, he (your father) found there," which must have been in Cambridge, "surprised his Presbyterian notions by proving in a number of cases to be fine people." Now, where would he get an impression like that, that your father had these preconceived ideas?
I don't know where he'd get the idea. Probably from the Cambridge end. But it might very well be the case, because he had always lived in a Presbyterian world, essentially. And this might very well be the case, that his world broadened somewhat. I really don't know, but I wouldn't be at all surprised, because he certainly was brought up in a Presbyterian household.
This was really the first time he was truly away from this environment?
No, he had been to Europe with his parents when he was 15, I think it was. But that was touring.
You say he went later in 1909.
Both he and your mother went.
Oh, he was in Europe many times.
Sure, later on. Well, I have one more question. You're the daughter of an astronomer, the wife of an astronomer, and your offspring are involved in astronomy.
Yes, our son-in-law is an astronomer. Our daughter's husband is Edward Olson at Illinois, and our son's first wife was the daughter of Pierre Semirot, the director of the observatory at Bordeaux.
With all this tremendous contact, with astronomy and astronomers, what do you think of astronomy?
Well, they're nice people. I thought you were going to ask me why I never studied astronomy?
I thought maybe that would come out if there was a particular reason.
Oh yes, there was a very practical reason.
There is? Well, then, what is it?
My sister (Lucy) did take astronomy with Miss Bigelow. At Smith. I thought I'd be expected to know too much. I thought the competition with my father would be a little stiff. And then I went ahead, and married Frank, and that was doubly bad. So,I just enjoyed my astronomy. I didn't take a course.
Did you actually ever think of becoming an astronomer?
Oh no, I was going to be a classical archeologist. And then, after I went back to school here, because the requirements differed in the different places enough that I would have had to repeat half the things that I had had at Smith, in history, which I was not interested in repeating, I took the first year zoology because I thought I ought to know something about it. Then the next course I took was Tracy Sonneborn's genetics, and I fell in love with it. And it just completely fascinated me, in this same kind of way, I think, that Dad was fascinated by the spectra. And so I just went from one course to another and I wound up in genetics.
Well, I never took a course in astronomy. I thought it was a great mistake to go into direct competition with somebody who you were never going to come anywhere close to. In fact, in most cases, I feel very sorry for sons, especially who've been named for their father, who go into the same field. I think it's an awful mistake.
Did your father ever ask you about your interest in astronomy, or could he tell?
Oh, he knew I was interested in most everything. But again, he encouraged any intellectual interests.
Well, I think we've covered quite a bit of ground tonight. I want to thank you very much for the time you've spent.
Well, it's fun talking about Dad. He was a very fine person. He was a wonderful parent, absolutely wonderful, because to him you were an individual, and he was interested in your capacities, and just fed it, you know, just as fast as you'd take it.
Was he looking for the extent of the capacity at any time? I mean, could he tell when a person couldn't take any more?
I think he could. When he was the examining officer in a PhD exam, he would start each exam out — and he quoted this many times by saying, "Gentlemen, the purpose of this examination is to discover the extent and limitations of the candidate's knowledge. If the examiner cannot ask questions which the candidate cannot answer, then the two should change places." In other words, if he can't think of some questions which the candidate cannot answer, then the two should change places.
I wonder if that ever happened?
I sort of doubt it. I'm sure he asked probing questions, but I doubt if he was mean about it. Of course, again, if you had a student, and he had one or two, who were not up to the Shapley or Menzel level, or Ted Dunham, then he wasn't rough on them. Sidney Hacker, for instance. He wasn't rough on him. He knew that he was limited, and thought he would be best in a teaching job, where he wasn't trying to do important research.
There was one young man, whose name I do not remember at all, who came with his wife from Arizona, I think it was, but in the Southwest anyway, as a graduate student. I think he was pretty good. I have no idea really about that. But his wife could absolutely not stand all the trees. She felt closed in. And it was a real psychological problem, and he had to go back West. I don't know who this was. And I don't know what he did, whether he finally went into astronomy or not, since they weren't there very long, because she went into a real mental state. She absolutely could not take being closed in by all those trees pressing down on her.
Weren't there fields, large fields, agricultural farms?
Outside of Princeton at that time? Because there are now.
Well, there was always some. But if you've lived in the Southwest, with the big open spaces, and you go in there, you feel as if you're in a jungle, and the trees really are pressing down on you. All that humidity. She'd never been out of the West, and she just couldn't take it. But now, that was a case where there was nothing wrong with the student, but they had to leave. Either that or his wife was going to go to an asylum.
Did your father ever consider moving out West?
He wasn't going to leave his family home.
I mean, with the entire family.
His home. The family home.
So this was extremely important in his life.
Oh, indeed. How many people do you know who never changed jobs, who always lived in the same house? And was perfectly happy about it. And of course, he hoped the family would continue to live there, but my mother was realistic about it. She knew that probably none of us would be able to keep it up or want to live there. So long as she knew the family portraits were all going to be looked after, she said, "Well, that's for you to decide after I'm gone."
How seriously did he consider the Harvard job?
Oh, quite seriously.
The home, of course, was an influence keeping him in Princeton.
But the Harvard job would have meant a tremendous amount of administration.
Yes. And I don't know how seriously he thought about whether he could take that amount of strain. Mother worried about it, I know. But of course, as far as she was concerned, she had a lot of relatives in the Boston area, and it would be going home to New England, so that they were both ambivalent about it. But when they got the house for Dugan, I think that was the deciding factor.
Of course, he [Russell] also got a salary increase and so on, but I think the house was the thing that swung it. And he was never sorry he didn't go.
I don't see why he should be.
Oh no, he was perfectly happy with his particular pet puddle — you know, "a little frog in a big puddle," he was a big frog in the little puddle, because he had everything that he wanted. He had students to work with, and he spent a period every year out at Mt. Wilson, where all the newest ideas were popping. So that he had everything, as far as he was concerned. And his old home to boot. And it wasn't only the home. As I said, he loved to go out in the woods, and he knew exactly where in all the woods and the fields the particular flowers bloomed at particular times of the year; where you could get the best wild strawberries; and so on and so forth.
So the whole area was home, in a very special way.
Shapley remarked about that, that he felt that he had arrived finally when your father confided in him where he could find a certain fern.
Oh, I'm sure. And he was quite right. When he was shown where the lady slippers grew.
One question comes to mind, about George Ellery Hale. Did Hale ever visit in Princeton?
No. His health was always very precarious. And he didn't do a lot of traveling.
What did your father think of Hale?
Oh, I think he thought highly of him. I've heard him speak about him, but, as a matter of fact, he wasn't a close friend or anything of that sort, but I think he thought highly of him. As far as I was concerned, he [Hale] was an invalid on the horizon. His close friends were Adams and Hubble, at Mt. Wilson, and of course, A.H. Joy was a friend. They all were. The ones he was closest to were the Adamses and Hubbles.
That's very interesting. Adams was a very fascinating fellow, especially after reading some of his letters.
You know, to go to Pasadena and see that absolutely perfect New England house and those New England people in it was quite a contrast. But even in Pasadena, I don't know, there weren't very many New England houses. And it was a proper New England white clapboard house, and inside, it was New England. And they were such delightful people.
Yes. Well, the Hubbles were too. But they weren't New England. They were both lovely people.
Hubble was a very interesting mix of different personalities, I seem to think, after we've been looking at him carefully. On one part, he would be with the people in Hollywood. On the other hand, he would be a very very quiet personal, inward looking person, and very careful about what he did. He seemed to have a very flamboyant side —
— oh yes.
And a very steady side. Did your father ever comment about this as being erratic?
No. No. He just accepted that that's the way he was. As I said, he went to the football game with him. And he enjoyed these forays out into the different world. In fact, partly I'm sure because of his upbringing in Oyster Bay and the Roosevelts and so on, he always valued contacts with the social world, Newport, and people like the Harrison Morrises, who were, of course, terribly impressed with him. He was equally impressed with them, because he was Harrison Morris and she was a Lippincott and so on.
That's interesting, about the Lippincott family. I didn't realize that they were an important name in the Philadelphia area.
Oh, indeed. And the Wharton School of Finance and so on. The Whartons. In fact, they owned about a third of the island of Jamestown. They were real Philadelphia elite.
Not that they acted that way. But you know — the Philosophical Society folks, and so on.
Your father was president of the Philosophical Society?
For a year.
He replaced someone. He was vice president, and then the president left or something?
I have a feeling he died, but I'm not sure. I don't think you just leave the Philosophical Society. I think he died. And Dad didn't want to take it on permanently, but he took it on for a year.
Did he ever talk about these different societies?
Oh, I went to the Philosophical Society meetings.
What was it like?
Oh, it was no end of fun, because not only could I go to anything I liked, but there were lovely archeological talks. Mother and I would go down to Philadelphia and go with him to the meetings. At one of these talks by a specialist in Mayan archeology. The speaker gave me a piece of jade from the sacred cenote (well) at Chichinitza. They broke it in two to test the jade. What was his name? His last name was Washington.
That must have been quite an experience.
Oh yes. That was great. I've still got it. I liked to go to meetings from the time I can remember. And since I was the one who showed a predilection for such odd things, I got taken sometimes. But the Philosophical Society was a particularly joyful one, because.... there were other things besides astronomy. I could go to different kinds of lectures. That was fun.
Possibly the little light is telling me it's a good time to stop. Thank you very very much, for a wonderful evening, for me.
IAU Symposium #80 [November 1977].
Correspondence in Hale collection shows Russell recovering circa 1919.
From "Who's Who in Science": Instructor 1905-08; Asst. Prof. 1908-11; Professor 1911-27; Director 1912-1947; Res. Prof. 1927-1947.
J. G. Crowther, "6 Great Astromoners," Hamish-Hamilton, London, 1961.
"Eclipsing Variables in the Magellanic Clouds." Vistas in Astronomy, II (A. Beer ed.) London, 1957, pg. 1177.
"Determination of the elements of eclipsing binariers." Pr. U. Obs. Contr. #26 .
The Hollow Squares were essentially colloquia at Harvard College Observatory. The speaker would be in the middle, and could be questioned from all sides.
The Adams house in Pasadena—didn't give an inch to the California environment.