Oral History Interviews

Interviews that offer unique insights into the lives, works, and personalities of modern scientists

Harlow Shapley on his assistants and "girl hours."

Oral history audio excerpt

Harlow Shapley on his assistants and "girl hours."

Weiner:

You talk of the work on globular clusters and the revolutionary implications of it which you pursued and published. And you talked of “we.” Now, was this a solo effort or were there others involved with you in a discussion of this? You indicated that there wasn’t too much discussion, but this was a big thing.

Shapley:

The discussion mostly was with Gretchen and maybe one or two assistants. You see, it took a tremendous lot of measures. I introduced the term “girl hours,” and it would take a lot of girl hours to solve some of the problems. In fact, one job took several kilo-girl hours to get it through. So I should say that I had help on a lot of the details. But I don’t think I had much help in the hunching.

Weiner:

This was at Mount Wilson?

Shapley:

Both places. But not many girl hours at Mount Wilson. Very few. I had one full time girl assistant as I got along, but there were very few at Mount Wilson whereas Harvard was just swarming with these assistants. That’s why we got somewhere, got it done. And elsewhere people had assistants. But I was at the observatory at Mount Wilson for many years when nobody was expected to have assistants.