Oral History Interviews

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

Henrietta Hill Swope on the attitudes toward women in astronomy.

Oral history audio excerpt

Henrietta Hill Swope on the attitudes toward women in astronomy.

DeVorkin:

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?

Swope:

Well, I think they always had a certain respect for the type of work.

DeVorkin:

But you were talking about the feeling, that you knew it was cheap labor, you said, or something like that, jokingly.

Swope:

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]

DeVorkin:

Well, we started seeing more women involved in astronomy in professional positions, staff positions, teaching and that sort of thing, by the fifties, certainly.

Swope:

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.

DeVorkin:

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.

Swope:

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.