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Interview of Henrietta Swope by David DeVorkin on 1977 August 3,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4909
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Family history. Margaret Harwood’s lectures at Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket; B.A. from Barnard College, 1925; work with Harlow Shapley at Harvard University, 1926; funding of astronomy projects and Shapley’s other interests in phenomena of nature. M.A. from Radcliffe, 1928. Other female astronomers: Helen Hogg, Antonia Maury, Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin; marriage of the Gaposchkins. Her paper at dedication of Tonantzintla Observatory. Work on LORAN navigation tables with Fletcher Watson during World War II; position at Barnard and Columbia; lecturer at Connecticut College for Women. Work as Walter Baade’s assistant at Hale Observatory, Baade’s work style and influence; Ira S. Bowen, Edwin P. Hubble, disputes among Shapley, Hubble and Baade. History of Swope’s work on variable stars, direct observation in Australia with Bart Bok, 1965; work with Margaret Mayall in American Association of Variable Star Observers. History of technique and changes in astronomy. History of attitudes towards women in astronomy; view of her own role and work in astronomy.
To start out, could you give me a brief background of your family history, where you came from, the backgrounds of your father and mother, information that would help us understand your career in astronomy?
My father was with General Electric Co. He was president of it. Before that, he’d been in Western Electric. My mother graduated from Bryn Mawr. She went out to live in Hull House, and Father was living in Hull House, and they met in Hull House and married there.
Hull House, in Chicago. And Mother was a witty woman, clever — a clever woman. I’m the oldest in my family, and then there were four younger brothers. Two of them are twins. My youngest brother is only six years younger than I am. And so, when we were small, she was very busy. Even with help. I think they were an intellectual family, of course. Mother was very interested in peace movements, and in helping. When I was young, I became interested in looking at the stars. This is when I was about 10 or 12, and I took William Tyler Olcott’s book. It’s a little book about finding stars or something. Constellations. And I used to go out and identify the constellations. Especially in the summer, because the winter was too cold,
Right. This was at Chicago?
Well, no. I was born in St. Louis in (???) and then we moved to Chicago. We moved from Chicago when I was five, and we moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, because Father then took a job in New York. This was with the Western Electric Co.
He was president of General Electric?
Oh well, he was president, but that was later. At that time, he was in the Western Electric and vice president. I don’t know if he was vice president when I was born, but he became a vice president later. Then he used to commute to New York from New Brunswick, N.J. Mother was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
So your first touch with the stars then was there?
Through my own thing. Then I guess — well, I always was interested in the stars, and then, we went to Nantucket in the summer time, and Margaret Harwood was the astronomer there, at the Marin Mitchell Observatory, and she had lectures at the Observatory. We’d go down from Wauwinet and my oldest brother and myself, I’m the oldest in the family, then my oldest brother, we usually rode down on horses. It was about a nine mile trip down and nine miles back.
Where did you live on Nantucket?
Oh, we were up at Wauwinet, Nantucket. I heard Dr. Harlow Shap1ey talk. She would invite Dr. Shapley down. He gave a lecture that excited me very much, about the universe and about his finding the globular clusters all in one place and their place around the Milky Way, the center of our galaxy.
Could you recall the approximate year, give or take a few years, that you heard this lecture?
I think about — probably around 1917.
That certainly was a time when he was very excited about that.
Yes he was. I guess I went to college a few years later in 1919. I graduated from Bernard College in 1925. I went to Barnard because I didn’t have any Latin. My father didn’t believe in any Latin. He thought I should spend that time on either sciences or modern languages. But I don’t know — schools at that time really weren’t equipped.
He was science-oriented, it sounds like.
I think so. He went to MIT and was an electrical engineer.
At Barnard, did you study any astronomy?
I took the astronomy course that was offered at Barnard, the last year I was there, and that was with Professor Jacoby. That was also the last year he was teaching. And I don’t think that would have inspired me to go into astronomy. He was sort of tired of teaching these young women. I felt as if all his jokes had been told 10 or 15 times already. Things like that.
I certainly know that Jacoby was —
— well known —
— he’s very well known –-
And he had been at Columbia for many many years.
And he retired, I think, in the next year, or it was one of his last years.
That sounds about right. Well, as you were going to college at Barnard, did you really think that you wanted to be an astronomer? Did you have that in mind?
Well, not too much. I majored in math in those days, I majored in math because it was easier. I could get it out of my way, and concentrate on other courses which I liked, which anthropology and zoology and history, things like that. Not so much history.
What was the general idea you had in mind, as to what you were going to do with this?
I don’t know. After I finished college, I went out for a year to Chicago, and lived at Hull House for a year, and went to the School of Social Service Administration, at the University of Chicago, which had at that time Miss Grace Abbot and somebody else who’s famous also. I think it may have been not Miss Grace Abbot. Oh, it’s awful, I haven’t thought of this for years. Well, anyway, I took this course, and I also went out and had a course outside, where you had to go to a place where I was helping old people. And this was just, I think, too much for me. And Margaret Harwood wrote to me while I was out there, March or April, and said that Dr. Shapley was offering some fellowships because he wanted some women to work for him, on special projects. I don’t know if it was my interpretation or it was hers, I guess it was mine, that he wanted some cheap workers!
How did you feel about that?
I think I wrote back to Dr. Shapley or to her, and said I didn’t know much astronomy but I’d like to try, if he wanted it. And he wrote and said, he knew the astronomy, and I could come. So I went there the next year. And I’ve been in astronomy ever since.
How did Margaret Harwood happen to remember you?
She had cousins in New Brunswick, N.J., which is where I was living with my family, the Strongs, and I guess they gave us a letter of introduction. I don’t know how it may have been. My mother knew her. She was younger than Mother but of course older than I.
When you were out there on Nantucket, did you actually work with Margaret Harwood on the variable star work that she did?
No. I went down there and took a course in the evening with her, which was general astronomy, but I didn’t — I know she was working on the variables then, but I never had anything to do with that.
Were there other women who were working with her, at that time?
Not so many. Not as many as there were later on.
So she didn’t have a formal course in astronomy that would have brought college level women in from the area.
I don’t remember anybody but myself and my brother.
OK. And your brother.
She had about 8 people in that class. I don’t remember anyone else there.
And they were mostly summer residents.
Yes. I think so. Mostly summer residents.
OK. That’s quite interesting. So the year you started working for Shapley was around 1926, ‘27?
What was the atmosphere like at Harvard when you started working there?
Oh, it was very nice. Everybody welcomed me. Cecelia Payne Gaposchkin was there — Cecelia Payne at that time. She’d gotten her doctor’s degree. Adelaide Ames was there. They became my very good friends.
Who was the second person?
Adelaide Ames. She and Dr. Shapley did the Shapley-Ames Catalogue of Galaxies. It’s still used. You still hear of it, which is, I think, quite remarkable.
Certainly. Well, that first several years there, of course, Shapley’s work continued, and more and more astrophysicists came.
Well, Dr. Shapley of course wanted me to do variable stars, find variables. He didn’t tell me much about it because of course I was presumably a graduate student, and he later turned somebody over to me, and I said, “Well, should I teach her how to do this, or should I let her find out for herself, as you let me find out for myself how to do it?” He said, “She isn’t on a fellowship. You can teach her.” So, first I had to find out for myself, how to do it.
How did you do this? Did you talk to some of the other people?
Well, there were other people who’d worked on variables. A lot of work had been done on variable stars there. But I compared plates and found them and measured them. The first field I had was very discouraging. It had very few — it was right at the center of the galaxy, so it was mostly dust clouds, and had very few variables. I could probably find more now, but I didn’t find many then. He had divided up the Milky Way into I think probably about 200 sections, most of it in the Milky Way, but also at high latitudes, and I had a section. Then I had another section. I had three or four sections, and other girls who came there had other sections to do. Finding variables.
How did you feel about doing this kind of work at that time?
I liked it.
Finding the variables? Or getting the periods of known variables? Or both?
Oh, well, you do both, because there are a lot of variables that had been found, but didn’t have any periods. And I always found — well, I guess I enjoyed tedious work, routine work. But also, when you got the periods, it was quite exciting, and at the end, it was quite exciting.
And I stayed on variable stars there, also took a few courses, but mostly stayed on the stars. Got a Master’s degree at Radcliffe.
I see. When did you get that Master’s degree at Radcliffe?
Oh, in l923.
That was quite quickly. Did most of the women at the Harvard College Observatory at that time come to get advanced degrees?
Some of them did. And some of them of course went on. I didn’t want to go on, at that time. I thought I’d about had enough study. But there was Helen Hogg there, who went on and got a PhD, and there were other women who got PhD’s.
What was your contact with Mrs. Gaposchkin? Was she interested in variable stars at this time?
Oh, she was a wonderful person. Have you ever met her?
Not personally. I hope to.
Yes. I think she was a wonderful person. You could talk to her. She had her own personal problems, very often, and they always consumed a lot of time, but also you could talk to her, and you always felt as if you knew an awful lot. She made you feel as if you new an awful lot, which is a very flattering way. And she knew a lot. She’d worked on — well, she was in astrophysics and spectra and stuff like that, but she also knew a lot about all kinds of astronomy.
Did she ever talk about women’s place in astronomy at that time?
Well, she — she was sometimes quite bitter, because or course, at that time, we had no place, really. We worked, as I said, cheap labor. So, I did talk to her quite a bit. Then later she got some acknowledgement, and I think she was acknowledged abroad, and other people knew her, and knew her work. I can’t tell you, quite how we were used — I hate to go into that.
Well, if there are any recollections, it would be of importance to recapture them, because in some ways, it might have affected the astronomy that was done at that time.
Well, of course, on the whole she was kept down or kept in her place -– kept down very much. And I think she was very fond of Dr Shapley, and I think he could use her. And he could also disturb her, very very much.
You mentioned that she had, from time to time, personal problems. Was this anything to do with her research work or personal?
Well, yes. It was personal, and I guess it was with her research work, very often.
Did you feel unusual, working as a researcher, at all?
You certainly felt a part of the team? Of the effort?
Yes. Yes. I guess I didn’t expect so much. And so, I didn’t mind how I was treated. There were a lot of women there you see, when we came in there, it wasn’t long after Pickering’s death. Dr. Shapley had been there four or five years.
And there were a lot of women left over from that time. I thought they were awful stick in the muds. Some of them –- Miss (Annie) Cannon was a very wonderful woman, but the rest of them were not. That’s Annie jump Cannon.
Sure. Well, Henrietta Swan Leavitt had already died.
— Yes, she had already died. She had been a wonderful person.
Did you know her?
No. I never knew her. And I don’t know, she was really a wonderful person. Miss Cannon was a wonderful person in that she had great interest in people and life and in doing things, and this is what the other women didn’t have. Then there was also Antonia Maury, who was there, and she became quite a person, and has done real work in astronomy. The others merely worked there.
Well, how do you think these were different from the others? Why were they different? Something in their personalities.
That’s an interesting observation. Do you think that if these women had been men, in that society, they would have gotten more chance to do things?
They might have. But I think there are a lot of men, really, who don’t really amount to much.
— true –-
But of course, they have a little bit more force behind them, and a little bit more ambition behind them. The women only work to support themselves. These were mostly unmarried women, and there were two Miss Gills, and Miss Wood, and Miss Wells … and I don’t know if they had real interest in astronomy or not. Miss Leavitt did, and so did Miss Maury. So did Miss Cannon, of course.
Did you ever hear discussions of Miss Maury’s association with the observatory, with Pickering and her work in stellar classification? Did people ever talk about the acceptance of her rather complicated system?
No, I don’t remember any of it. I knew her mostly because of Beta Lyrae.
What was your contact with Beta Lyrae?
Oh, Beta Lyrae is an eclipsing star, and it’s a peculiar eclipsing star — and she spent most of her life on Beta Lyrae.
Was she analyzing observations primarily?
Yes, and the spectra, the period and everything.
This has been a longstanding binary with many many people. I know the Gaposchkin’s took it up. Struve worked on it.
Yes. These all came after she had done it.
She really started out the whole work. Was she pretty much directed, or did she do her own research?
Oh, I think she did her own research. In fact, she wasn’t so much at the observatory. She had family.
And she’d go down and live there sometimes. But she had strong connections with the observatory. She always had an office there.
Were you supporting yourself completely, as researcher?
Your family was helping.
Yes. Right. I had an allowance.
The Harvard people weren’t able to pay enough to support you?
I don’t know. I don’t remember. Maybe. Did I get a thousand dollars, that first year? Well, for a great many years, that was all that I got. When I left there, at the beginning of the war, I was getting $2000 (World War II). Then I went to work for the Hydrographic office at MIT because an astronomer was working for him, and there, they said, “How much were you getting?” And I said, I think, $2000. That’s what they say they would pay me, what I was getting, but that was too little for them. They couldn’t. So I rose fairly quickly.
That was good to hear. Then during the thirties, you were involved completely at Harvard. Were you always working for Shapley during that time?
Well — with Shapley.
You really did feel you were working with him?
I was working with myself. I mean he did supervise me, and he was over it, and did the whole job, but still — I did my own work and published it. Except when I got a very interesting variable or two. He’d stick his nose into it!
Right. You looked for something interesting.
But he was very nice to work with.
How did he go about finding these interesting things? Usually you would find them first?
You’d find them first. You’d take plates of the same region, and you’d take a positive at one time, and put it with a negative, and you’d see the differences. If a white spot showed up on the positive and no black spot on top of it that might be a variable. Or if it was a black spot, with no white ring around it, that could be a variable. Or if the rings changed sizes, that could be a variable.
Yes. I’ve seen that technique. Dorrit Hoffleit used it at Yale.
— Yes. She came, she was a little younger than I, but she was there I guess about the same time, because she was working there to earn her way through college.
That’s right. So you were there pretty much the same time that she was.
I think she graduated in ‘28. That meant she was a little bit younger, probably four years younger than I.
How was it really in general sense to work with Shapley? What was the atmosphere? Was he always full of surprises? Or was he very steady in his work habits?
Well, I think he was pretty steady. One time we were surprised. He called all of the staff into his office one day, and he got us all sitting in his office, and then he announced that Cecilia had eloped with Sergei Gaposchkin.
Well, they’d gone to New York to be married.
Oh. That’s an interesting story. I didn’t know that. You mean, no one had known that they were going to get married?
Well, I think they might have suspected. But I don’t know.
How did Dr. Shapley announce it?
He just told us.
What was the reaction?
Well, I never smoked. I took a cigarette and lit it, and that was so unusual that everybody had to remark on that. I don’t know — we were all surprised, a little bit dumbfounded.
Was it that she was going to get married, or that you just didn’t know beforehand, just a surprise?
Well, it was a surprise.
That was around l933-34, I guess.
Let’s see, ‘34 …
How about the atmosphere for research during that decade? Do you think Mrs. Gaposchkin changed after she married? I know that she changed her topic of research. She did more and more variable star research.
Well, she did it later. I don’t know if she did it at that time. I think she changed her research when I was leaving the observatory, more or less.
So it was a number of years later.
Yes. She was always a very good observer. And there were less problems for people like me, with Cecilia — and she had her husband, and this satisfied her to a certain extent.
What do you mean by problems?
Well, these are the ones she talked about. I think there are some of them probably related to — I don’t think, particularly to men, but at least it satisfied her to get married. Have you ever met her? She’s a very big woman.
Oh yes. Yes. Nothing unusual so far as I could tell. I’ve only seen her at meetings with other people, never personally. Well, that’s a very important time during the Harvard years, especially for Shapley. I know that for a long time he resisted the idea of the existence of an absorbing medium in space, interstellar medium, and you worked with him during these years, even though not on that topic, but did you have any involvement with that?
No. I didn’t have any involvement. In 1942, I guess we’d just declared war. We had just been invited down; this was before that, to the dedication of the observatory, because we were very close to Tonantzintla. Of course Dr. Haro who was then very close to Dr. Shapley, and Bart Bok, too, and we were all invited down there, and I gave a paper. It was never published, because it suffered from being a war casualty.
You mean war casualty as far as paper, publication costs?
No — well, because I left, I really left the observatory then, and did work for the Hydrographic Office. And then I never went back to the Harvard Observatory, as such.
Did you leave Harvard?
I had a leave of absence. But then I came out here.
Well, I’d like to ask you just a word or two about the hydrographic work, what you did for them, and then how you came to come out here instead of staying at Harvard.
Well, the Hydrographic Office. Fletcher Watson was in charge of LORAN at that time, at least of making the tables for LORAN — the navigation tables. And he wanted me to work for him, and I went down to MIT to work for him first. Then he moved to New York, and so I went down to New York and worked in a WPA office. They’re the ones who were paid by the government, poor people who couldn’t get jobs. They were a holdover from the Depression.
Yes, but the Works Progress Administration also supported artists and artisans and technicians, people like that.
That’s right. And these were computers. These were really computers, and about 10 percent of them or a little bit more were colored people. So it was the first I’d really worked with colored people. But I found that the colored people were — they were among the brightest, they were among the dumbest, and they were in the middle.
Just like everybody else.
What kind of work did you actually do?
I worked on the LORAN tables.
On the tables themselves, yes. So this was basically a computing job.
Oh, yes, it was a computing job. I think it was more organizing, or something, I’ve forgotten. And then I went to Washington, I went to Washington to the Hydrographic Office which took over the tables, and we worked down there. Then peace came, ‘47, and then I left, two months after the peace.
Did you know where you were going when you left?
By then, I guess I had been asked to go to Barnard College to teach, and I said there I had never taught, but they would try me in one course. I also went over to see Dr. (Jan) Schilt who was at Columbia, and he gave me office space, and said I could do some research there. So I sent for the Harvard plates and worked there for a year or two. And at that time, I went and saw Dr. Shapley, and I said I might do this — and he was rather glad, because, he said, he had no money. I guess he had no money.
Was he about to retire at that time?
Well, it was about four years before he retired. I think he retired in ‘52.
He was still chairman then — did he have no money, or was he not active?
Well, he never had very much money. He was always living from hand to mouth, and this was one of the problems and one of the criticisms of him, that he always did live from hand to mouth — and this is also why he always had cheap labor, because that’s the way he supported it.
How did he get his money? Did you ever know?
He’d go around, and he’d lecture and talk, and raise money, and he also was a good raiser of money for other departments at Harvard — I think for botany or biology, biology. You know, he was very interested in ants. He got that interest up on Mt. Wi1son. Wherever he could find the ants, he liked them. I remember his pointing out ants. I went to the wedding of Helen Hogg who married A. R. Hogg.
— She was Helen Sawyer at that time.
Yes, well I saw Shapley at her wedding, which was in New England. It was in a New England town, and he pointed out some leaves where there were aphids, and the ants were milking the aphids.
Did he ever talk about how he got interested in trees and natural things?
Well, I think he was always curious, but I never knew his particular interest. I was always interested.
Did he ever talk about his teacher, Russell?
Yes. Oh, and Russell used to come to Harvard Observatory a lot. He used to come and give colloquia, and he was a very good friend.
What are your recollections of Russell?
I remember having him over to supper one night, and I knew that I had to have a pitcher of water beside his place. Also, it was a real supper, it wasn’t dinner. I also know that he talked almost all the time, steadily. And then I finally went on a trip and met his wife. He was with his wife. This was a trip to the Greek Islands, or to Greece. When was that? And I found that she talked as much as he did. And I couldn’t see how they’d get on, but they both talked. But they seemed to get on all right.
What did he talk about, anything you recall?
Oh, he could talk about anything.
When he talked about astronomy, was it anything in particular? He certainly was interested in binary stars all his life.
Well, he was also interested in spectra.
Yes. I don’t remember — I’m sure he talked about spectra and binary stars, but other things too.
Ok. Well, how did you end up coming out here to California?
I stayed at Barnard two years, and then Priscilla Bok, she’s the wife of Bart Bok, she was Priscilla Fairfield, who was an astronomer in her own right, got her PhD, at Lick. She had been invited to lecture at Connecticut College for Women, and she wanted to take it, but she was going away with her husband to Australia for half a year, and so I was to go and substitute for her for half a year. So I did.
This was at Connecticut College.
Connecticut College for Women. I had two half years, half semesters. And then at the end of that, I got a letter from Martin Schwarzschild, saying that Dr. Walter Baade would like me to come out and assist him. He had a lot of material which wasn’t going to get done, didn’t get published, and he wanted me to come out and help him.
How do you suppose Martin Schwarzschild was the one who wrote you that letter?
Oh, because Martin Schwarzschild knew me. I knew him at the Harvard Observatory. He used to be at the Harvard Observatory, I guess he came from Germany to the Harvard Observatory, and I really liked him very much. And he knew my work. And I guess I had also met Baade, and Baade had heard my paper in Mexico, at the meeting for Tonantzintla, and then I met him at an IAU meeting I guess in l943. So he knew me, sort of, but not very well.
It was interesting at that time, how people were able to get these very important and interesting jobs with people like Baade –- I guess they didn’t advertise like they do today, and a lot of people apply.
Because this is really how you got all your positions, it was by direct references.
Of course, it was just by accident, I got all of my positions. I’ve never had to go out and really look for jobs.
People approached you.
Was there ever a difficulty, during your lifetime up to that point, where you knew you had to support yourself?
No. I didn’t have to.
Your family was quite well off.
Did this help in allowing you to do exactly as you wanted to do?
I’m sure it did, because I never really had to worry about myself and how much I was receiving. So that part didn’t really worry me. I thought as if I had no foot to stand on — if I did want more money I still had enough to live on comfortably.
It’s a very different thing, in a situation like that. Many people feel, well, they’re not being respected unless they are being paid more money. But you felt that you had enough money, and so you were doing just what you wanted. It wasn’t a question of respect, you were doing what you liked, what you wanted. Did you want to know pretty much what Baade had in store for you, before you went to work there?
Oh, well, he wanted me to work on variable stars. He wanted the same kind of work that I’d been doing, except that now it was working on the 200 inch plates, and instead of variables in our own galaxy, it was on galaxies outside our system.
You found that pretty fascinating?
Oh, yes. It’s really no more fascinating than the other — but still, it’s sort of fun, because you work on the 200 inch and they were so much further away and so much fainter.
Sure. Did you correspond directly with Baade then for awhile?
Oh, then I did, with Baade and Dr. I.S. Bowen.
And what kind of position did you first have when you came here, then?
Dr. Bowen wrote and told me how much salary I’d get, and he said I’d be called a computer. I wrote back and said, “I’ve never been called a computer. I’ve been called an assistant or staff member” or whatever it was. It was sort of nondescript but you can a make out of it what you wish. He wrote back and said the name had been changed, and it was now a research assistant. That applied then to all the other research assistant ladies here. Not computers.
There were a lot of women here, too.
Yes. There was Louise Lowen and Mary Coffeen. These were aside from secretaries. And Sylvia Bird and I guess others.
How would you compare the attitude here, just as the 200 inch had been built and you arrived just after it was built, I guess —
— soon after.
Yes. Was the attitude here very much more exciting, or not much different than Harvard, would you say?
No, not much different. Of course, Baade and some of the others would get very excited, and you could hear them all the way down the hall, talking. And this was sort of exciting. And Hubble was here. I think he died the first year or second, first year I was here.
Well, he had a very massive heart attack in ‘49, I guess, and then he died several years after that.
Oh, I didn’t even know he’d had the massive heart attack. I guess he had heart trouble. I came out here in ‘52.
He died in ‘53, I think.
I know he just walked out in the corridor for lunch that day, and he never came back to the observatory. He was dead. I guess he died before he got home.
Yes. It must have been quite traumatic.
What was your relationship with Baade? And how closely did you work with Baade?
I worked the way I worked with Dr. Shapley. It was his work, and for him, but I would do all the work and if I had questions, I’d go and ask him, and occasionally he’d come in and tell me what he wanted. But mostly I did on my own. And then he never wrote anything. So in the last few years, I was trying to write up things for him, because he was then retired, and he was coming and going, but he was supposed to come back here, and I was having to write up some of my work, and then would let him see it or adjust it. But then, I had to finally write it up. And I published it after he died. He never saw it. His name is on it.
But people certainly realized that you were the one who actually wrote up the material.
I think so.
He seemed to be a man that d the ability to see through things that confused other people.
Oh, oh yes. He saw through things, and he was very nice. There is his picture (on the wall of office). And I think he was a very kind man. He treated his wife a little bit autocratically, but I think she sort of expected to be treated that way. I think you are treated as you expect to be treated, very often.
Interesting observation. It’s probably true. Well, how did you want to be treated here, and were your wishes fulfilled?
Yes. I’ve been treated all right. And Dr. Bowen was a very, very kind person, very nice person. I think he always thought I should have had a better job. But he was always very much afraid of doing anything against what had been done before. I mean, they’d really had no women here before. That is, in the good positions. And finally, he saw to it, in the last two or three years, that I was made a research associate down at Cal Tech, which was some advancement.
Well, had there been pressure from other people, to give you the recognition you deserved?
I don’t think so. Unless — I don’t know.
How about Baade? Did he feel that you needed or required or deserved more recognition?
I don’t think he would. I think he accepted me. I don’t think he would have thought of it, is what I mean. This is what I mean with his wife. She thought she had to be there at his beck and call and do just certain things for him. I don’t think she had to do that. I think if she’d spoken up and said she didn’t want to, she wanted some time off to herself for something, he would have accepted it. If she’d got to it early enough, at least.
Well, were there times when you disagreed, on the way to study a particular star?
Well, there were times — mostly, the arguments I had with him were arguments about Shapley, and his work. DeVorkin; Oh, I’d like to hear about some of that.
Oh well, I stuck up for Shapley. And I can’t remember anything else.
Well, Shapley, through the thirties at least, had differences with the people here, primarily with Hubble.
Oh yes, they were.
I’d be very interested to know a little more about what those differences were.
Oh, that wasn’t so much concerned with me. But it had to do with the distribution of the galaxies, whether they were close, or whether they were sort of widespread. I don’t remember who was for which, now.
Well, the interesting thing would be how Shapley reacted to Hubble or to Baade.
Oh, well, Hubble would have nothing to do with Shapley. Baade was kinder than that. And Dr. Shapley would invite Hubble to the observatory to give colloquia, but he would never come. He never came to the Harvard Observatory.
This is while you were at Harvard.
This is while I was at Harvard.
There must have been something awfully bad between them. Did you know what it was?
I don’t really know. Well, probably Dr. Shapley was out here, I think he was sort of a whippersnapper. He was sort of young and fresh and came from the Middle west, and I guess, even at that time, Dr. Hubble — I don’t know if he was so much older than Dr. Shapley –-
Hubble was actually several years younger than Shapley. But he got his PhD around 1919 or 1920, after World War I, and Shapley was around 1913.
I guess Hubble had gotten a degree earlier in law or something like that.
That’s right, he had gotten his degree in law, before World War I, and then went back. So I guess he must have been older. That’s quite interesting. Still, they were pretty much the same age.
Yes. Yes, they were.
But their personalities seem to be very different. Is that correct?
Yes. Yes. Very.
How would you describe the differences, to the best of your recollection?
Oh, I didn’t know Hubble very well. Hubble and Mrs. Hubble were a1ways saying that they’d have me over to the house, but they never did. And so I never really met them socially. He was a tall man. He was sort of, I suppose, arrogant. He had connections with Hollywood, and I think he was quite proud of them. I don’t know what the connections were. But he had quite a social life, I think, more than the other astronomers.
Really, the differences that would have caused Hubble to be so negative towards Shapley, this is what is the curious thing.
Yes. They may not have agreed even at that time — this was over probably globular clusters at that time when he was out here, and — when Dr. Shapley was out here — with globular clusters. Then, I don’t know if he also didn’t like — but he liked Humason, afterwards. Dr. Shapley was very kind really to Humason and helped Humason come along. And then he became the assistant, the night assistant, and Dr. Shapley found he was an interesting young man, and helped him along.
Oh, I see. That’s when Shapley was still here.
Yes. Shapley left I guess in 1919.
Yes — Something around that time. Let me change the tape.
Your recollections about Dr. Baade possibly would be the most vivid, because you worked with him last, is that true?
I don’t know. Also Dr. Shapley and Cecilia. Early ones are all so easy. But Dr. Baade? He was very nice. He was very kind to me. If I did disagree with him, he would always listen.
He would definitely listen?
Oh yes, he would. I’ve forgotten whether I really disagreed with him. I don’t remember, but I’m sure I did, once or twice.
In following up his own work, then, you certainly did come to appreciate the problems that he was attacking and how he was solving problems of cosmology, and that sort of thing? Did you get an appreciation for his philosophy of doing cosmology, how he would study galaxies and their structure, and did he ever talk to you about his philosophy?
Well, I guess he did, but I don’t know if that would have made so much difference. I got a lot of it, I guess, from Dr. Shapley. I got a lot of it from my work with Dr. Shapley. Oh, that’s what I was going to say, about the paper on variable stars I gave at Tonantzintla. It was that one that showed there must be absorbing clouds or at least, there was something, between galactic equator and the higher latitudes. And it showed that more and more stars came up, and different kinds of stars showed up, as you moved away from the center. I think that’s what interested Baade very much in my work. And that’s the same kind of things we did here on Andromeda, when I worked on it.
Yes, here’s a very large picture here in your office.
That’s one section. There’s Andromeda. Of course, it’s bigger than that. And this is it, on the 48-inch, but I think it’s only part of the 48-inch, enlarged, and these circles are the areas covered by the 200-inch telescope. I worked on the first field and the third field and the fourth field. The second field was worked on by Sergei Gaposchkin.
And you were working primarily on variable stars. In these different fields all the way through.
Yes. I found some variable stars, and Dr. Baade had found most of them, of course. He found them before I came here. I just worked them up.
When he blinked plates, I assume he blinked plates, he didn’t use positive and negatives?
Yes, he used blink plates.
Right. Did he ever show you how he searched plates for variables?
Well, I knew that too, because we had a blink machine at Harvard, but I never liked it. This was a better blink machine. There you just have two plates. They are not a positive and negative. They are both negatives. But you just look first at one plate and then the other in the same area, and the stars that are variables jump.
The question is though; you mentioned that the blink here was better than the one at Harvard so then did you end up doing a lot of blinking yourself?
Well, here, I did blinking. I did some, not too much, because he’d done most of it, and I guess in this last field, this one, which I have still to publish — it’s taken years, I’m just like Baade, putting it off –-
He put off his publications?
Oh yes, because he’d done this work. Well, he did it for another reason. I do it because I’m lazy. But he did it because he’d gotten the stuff out of it, he knew what he wanted and he’d gotten the results, and this part just bored him. I’m sure.
You mean, preparing work for publication bored him? Did he ever complain about being pressured to publish?
He never complained to me. Other people pressured him, I know.
Who pressured him?
Well, other astronomers.
Here on the staff?
I guess, on the staff, and Martin Schwarzschild, and anybody who knew him would pressure him.
In a friendly sort of a way.
You mentioned, you had some correspondence of his about organization of meetings and that sort of thing.
Did you have any contact with these organizational meetings that he took part in?
None at all.
Did he ever talk about how he felt astronomy was going and how it was changing?
No. Not that I remember, unless I overheard conversations.
That’s the sort of information, about how he viewed astronomy and possibly how that might have affected his research that would be very interesting to be able to recapture.
Well, I don’t really know enough. I accepted it. That’s what I can’t tell you.
Well, the idea that you accepted it is interesting in itself, as far as your own research is concerned. Did you find that the attitude toward you, as a woman working in astronomy, as an assistant and then as an associate later on, that the attitude was loosening up, and that people were gaining more respect for the types of work people did?
Well, I think they always had a certain respect for the type of work.
But you were talking about the feeling, that you knew it was cheap labor, you said, or something like that, jokingly.
Oh, well. I joked about that, but I’m sure it was, too, in a way. Though I don’t think you always should mention it. [laughter]
Well, we started seeing more women involved in astronomy in professional positions, staff positions, teaching and that sort of thing, by the fifties, certainly.
But very few, actually. There are a few. Well, there are more, now, but they weren’t so much as Margaret Burbidge and Beverly Lynds and Beatrice Tinsley and they say there’s a very good woman like a Miss Sandy Faber? I’ve never met her but Bob Kraft says she’s very good.
I’ve heard her speak. She does a lot of interesting work in galaxies. Well, all these women now are able to obtain faculty positions. But I was very surprised to hear that it wasn’t until the late fifties that Mrs. Gaposchkin was actually give full professorship at Harvard.
I don’t know if it was the late fifties. It’s the one thing that I think Donald Menzel did and Dr. Shapley never did, was to give her a position. And Menzel did give her a position at Harvard, and it’s the one thing that I credit him for. You see, I didn’t like the transition. I was very glad I wasn’t there.
I see. Why was that?
Oh, there was a lot of bad feeling there.
From what direction?
From all directions.
Could you describe why the bad feelings were there?
He was very much a solar astronomer. I think the primary reason I didn’t like it and some of the others didn’t like it was he wanted to go over almost exclusively to solar astronomy, and throw away the stellar astronomy, which the Harvard Observatory had always stood for. In fact, in the last few years, I don’t know how much stellar astronomy was being done. There were people who were still working on it.
Sure. Well, did that have any effect on the fact that the Smithsonian began its cooperation with Harvard about that time?
It was a little later than that. I don’t know when that came or how that happened.
The Smithsonian was already there?
No, it wasn’t. Well, it wasn’t there in 1952, I don’t think.
So you definitely were happy that you’d left and that you were working with Baade. Did you do primarily the variable star work, the work you are doing now, then?
Oh yes. Variable stars, and color magnitude diagrams.
The development of the color magnitude diagram is quite a fascinating story, especially when you use it as a color-color plot. When you make these diagrams, are these from your own observations?
Yes. Well, when I make them, they are from my own observations. The only trouble is, I don’t make many color-color diagrams, for I don’t have any good new plates, to measure. I have only the photo-visual and the photographic.
That’s right. What kinds of machines do you use to measure magnitudes?
We have a photometer downstairs.
Is it a fixed iris or adjustable iris? I’m just wondering how your techniques have changed in measurement, over the years.
Well, at Harvard, it was all eye estimates. And it was here I began I guess at first it was eye estimates, and then I began to see the photometer downstairs. We first had an Eichner, which was from Columbia.
Eichner, he built one for Columbia, and this was like it.
He was associated with Columbia. I don’t know how close he was. And then, we had a Sartorious downstairs now.
Ok, I’m familiar with that design. Do you appreciate the new techniques that have come along with new instrumentation to make it easier for you to make these measurements?
Yes. Oh, I certainly do. And now, I do certainly, certain stars and certain plates. The quality of the plate has to be quite good, to use a photometer. When I go to my old bad quality plates and I have to use eye estimates still. But then, it’s a rough guess.
Are you able to blend in the two types of data?
Who taught you how to do eye estimates?
I did myself. That’s what I think I told you.
I’m just wondering if it’s the same for all different types. I know with measuring magnitudes, that sort of thing, it’s usually a very subjective problem.
It is. It’s still subjective. And this is the trouble with it.
Did you have any little hints, or tricks that you use, that you’d care to share?
No. I don’t think I have. People think I must be an expert, but I don’t think so. I think it’s just experience. The thing I had that I think is pretty good was I could go easily from one plate to another. I have a good memory for pictures of stars. I can find my star easily.
Within the field of other stars, you can recognize patterns quite easily. Is this something that you always were able to do?
You mentioned that you were able to recognize constellations.
Yes. I think so. And I like it. That kind of thing, I like.
That’s a very interesting thing. That carries through your entire life. Did you ever do any direct observations yourself at the telescope?
No. I went out to Australia. Dr. Bok asked me out to Australia, and I went out in 1965. It was just before he retired. Because I wanted to observe a variable star that I’d found at Harvard. This was an eclipsing star. And I’d always wanted that and never published it, really published it. And So I went out there and did some photoelectric work. But he really did the measuring. He’s a great observer. He loves observing. So he’d go up to the telescope, and you might think that he’d show you how, but instead, you just assisted him. So I didn’t really observe.
— in that way, was he also a good teacher?
I guess he was a good teacher. Yes, he was a good teacher. So was Armin Deutsch, here. He never taught me on the telescope bit he was a good teacher.
As far as reduction techniques?
No, as far as just astronomy and the theory of astronomy.
Did any of these people recommend books at any time that represented the state of knowledge? Or ask you to write particular articles that could summarize the state of knowledge on variable stars? I know that Mrs. Gaposchkin started writing these articles later on. Did she correspond with you about variable stars?
No. She knew what I knew. I knew what she knew. Or she knew what I knew, I guess. And she knew a lot more.
How do you think astronomy has changed during the years that you’ve been involved?
Oh, it has changed a lot. This is very simple astronomy, the kind of work I’ve done. This isn’t the kind of work that Baade was interested in -– he’d go into the theory of it. But oh, they’ve found all kinds of things that are interesting, like quasars and pulsars, and BL Lacertae –-
— oh yes -–
— and Seyfert Galaxies and all kinds of things that are interesting now.
Has it changed astronomy itself? Do you think people are looking for anything different now? Do you think Baade was looking for anything different than Hubble or Shapley, as far as the nature of the universe is concerned?
They were looking for the nature of the universe. Their ideas of what the universe may have been were different. I think each had more knowledge than the other.
In terms of their relative ages or something.
Well, do you think that Baade had a different way of looking at things than Hubble?
Well, I think he knew more than Hubble about astronomy. Or, I think he was a better student of it. But maybe not. But that may be prejudice, too. That’s why I don’t like to say these things.
Well, he seemed to do more different types of problems that had far more application to other people’s research, and dependent on others’ research.
Yes. And here, he did a lot of his work and inspiration and talking — I think he did it through correspondence. He’d correspond with people, give them ideas, and he inspired graduate students and other people. This was Baade.
This is what makes recovering his correspondence and collecting it very important –-
But I have none of it, which seems awful.
Where do you think it all is?
I have no idea. Except maybe, if you go to people like Martin Schwarzschild or Lyman Spitzer, and ask them if they have some of the correspondence, and J. Oort must have it, some.
— well, if we could collect just bits and pieces from various places it would help.
— yes, somebody else came through and wanted to look at the papers. But I think we have very little.
(after pause) We’ve been talking about Just how influential Dr. Baade was, in talking to people and giving other people ideas and that sort of thing.
Yes. I think he was very influential. He talked to a lot of people. And he’d write, he liked writing letters, but he didn’t seem to like writing papers. I suppose that was too — well, I think, another thing: he was a perfectionist. He hated to publish before he had the whole thing. And he always had another part to do.
He was never really completely satisfied with the way he’d done it. Right — I know I asked you this before, in a slightly different way, but he must have been frustrated by the need to publish. Did he ever talk about the difficulties of obtaining money or support if he didn’t publish, or anything like that?
Did you ever involve yourself in problems of funding, problems of gaining money?
When you look back on your own career, with some of probably the most famous astronomers, most famous names in 20th century astronomy, at least — how do you see your own role, in perspective? Some of the most interesting things you have ever done?
Well, I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done. And I think most people wouldn’t find it so very interesting. I know that certain things, when you come to the whole thing, you enjoy it and write the papers. Or, there are several variable stars that turned out to be very interesting.
What makes them interesting to you?
Well, they’re a little different. There was another star that was presumably — this was at Harvard. It was presumably a Cepheid. I was trying to find it, and one year I found a period for it, but the next year it had a different one. Every year it had a different one, and then it hardly varied. Then it was also growing faint again and hardly varies now. So -–
— certainly strange stars.
Yes. And then a binary star that has nearly an eccentricity of nearly .49.
.49. That’s pretty high.
Yes. And it’s an eclipsing star.
Did you ever get interested in determining the interior density distribution of stars from the apsidal motion test?
This is something I never could really get into. I know it’s important.
Well, I’m very interested in your views of how you think astronomy might be changing at this time. Certainly people have to continue looking at variable stars.
Oh, I think they do, too, as such, and they have to be looking at variable stars, they have to be looking at proper motions and other things that are sort of the basic data. But it’s way beyond these people who are interested in quasars and pulsars.
What do you think is going to happen to astronomy, if people don’t continue to produce true data?
I think the trouble is that big observatories like this look at the other things, but at the small observatories, they have to look at the variable stars. Of course, then they seem to me to look at them in too small a way. And this is the thing that Dr. Shapley did. He always took quite a big area, and I never got quite interested in that.
Have you ever been involved at all with people in the AAVSO, Margaret Mayall?
I knew her. And when I was there, I used to help with the meetings and things, and open houses that they used to have. Of course, Dr. Shapley was supportive. That was very interesting. This observatory doesn’t think at all of the outside world. But Dr. Shapley was very interested in keeping the public interested in astronomy — for getting funds.
He was pretty successful, I imagine?
I don’t know if through the AAVSO, but I guess, some of them.
What about the observations that the AAVSO collects?
Well, here’s the latest report. They’re still being used.
Do you find these observations useful?
I don’t use them myself. They aren’t faint enough.
They certainly can’t do variables in M-31. Right. But for the other people who do galactic variables here -–
Well, they find them. Some people find more. I think Armin (Deutsch) used to get observations from them.
So this is still a source of some variable star information.
But not the very deep variables.
And the deep variables — well, more and more people are now being able to go after the deep variables. But still, the 200-inch has certain advantages.
How do you feel, working on plates that are just about at the edge of the visible universe? Do you ever think about it philosophically?
Yes. I used to think that I had — I had plates at Harvard Observatory, I worked on the 10 inch Metcalf plates and the 214-inch Bruce Telescope plates. And in a way, the best ones of those were just as good as only these go to the 23rd magnitude, and those went to the 16th magnitude.
Maybe they both go a little bit fainter now. Because of photographic techniques.
Was there some fascination that you had with astronomy throughout your entire life that has sustained your interest? Or was it something in the activity itself that you really appreciated?
Well, I’ve always liked it. I don’t know. I guess it’s always interested me, and I think the people who worked in it, — I liked working around the university, that kind of place, too. I think it has a nice atmosphere. And the people who worked at it are nice.
That’s a pretty good advertisement for good working conditions then. OK, I want to thank you very much for the time you’ve spent with me. Thank you very much.
You’re very welcome.