AAS 197, January 2001
Session 23. HAD II
Special Session Oral, Monday, January 8, 2001, 10:30am-12:00noon, Royal Palm 5/6

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[23.03] Harvard College Observatory: Shapley's Factory for PhD Degrees?

B.L. Welther (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

When Harlow Shapley assumed the Directorship of Harvard College Observatory in 1921, there was no program in place there to train the next generation of astronomers. In 1923, using the Pickering Fund for women assistants, Shapley hired a young English woman, Cecilia Payne, to work on stellar spectra. Just two short years later, Payne completed her research and wrote a celebrated thesis on stellar atmospheres. Because Harvard University was not prepared to confer a PhD degree on a woman at that time, Payne presented her thesis to Radcliffe College. Thus, in 1925 she became the first person to receive a PhD in astronomy for a research project at HCO.

By 1933, a PhD in Astronomy had been conferred on eight graduate students who had undertaken research projects at HCO: four men who received their degree from Harvard, and four women, from Radcliffe. In subsequent years, however, the equal distribution of degrees for men and women quickly changed. When the 30th degree was bestowed in 1943, only 10 of the candidates were women. By 1955, when the 60th degree was conferred, only 14 women had received a PhD. In just two decades, then, the ratio of women astronomers had steadily dropped from a solid 50% at the height of the Shapley era to slightly less than 25% at his retirement. Also, until the mid-1960s, the women astronomers still had to apply to Radcliffe for their PhD degrees.

This paper will briefly examine the funding and research topics of some of the HCO PhD candidates in the Shapley Era (1921-1955). It will also highlight some of their subsequent contributions to 20th-century American Astronomy.

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