Genesis of the CSWA

by Joan T. Schmelz

The Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) was created in June 1979 by the AAS Council. The events that led to its formation are described in detail in an article by former CSWA chair, Sue Simkin, in The American Astronomical Society's First Century (Simkin 1999). According to Simkin, the status quo was challenged in 1971 when Margaret Burbidge refused to accept the Cannon Prize because "the prize, available only to women, was in itself discriminatory." The Council's response was to set up a committee, the "Special Committee on the Cannon Prize," which not only dealt with this issue but also recommended that the AAS review the status of women in astronomy.

In May 1972, the Council set up the "Working Group on the Status of Women in Astronomy," which consisted of a large number of volunteers. The steering committee included Anne Cowley (Chair), Roberta Humphreys, Beverly Lynds, and Vera Rubin. Their report was presented to the Council in Dec 1973 and published in BAAS in 1974 (Cowley et al. 1974). The statistics contained in the report indicated that the percentage of women in the AAS was the lowest that it had been in the history of the Society. In addition, women were underrepresented as AAS officers, committee members, prize recipients, invited speakers, session chairs, and journal editors.

Despite the findings of the 1974 report, the Council waited until June 1978 to appoint an ad hoc "Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy." This committee included Martha Liller (Chair), Anne Cowley, Paul Hodge, Frank Kerr, and Nancy Morrison. Their update of the 1974 report concluded that "the status of women (in the AAS) has changed very little since 1973" and recommended that "the Council authorize the appointment of a standing Committee on the Status of Women." Their report was published in BAAS in 1980 (Liller et al. 1980).

CSWA was established in June 1979 with Anne Cowley (Chair), Frank Kerr, Martha Liller, Bruce Margon, and Catherine Pilachowski. Their charge, to "Recommend to the Council practical measures that the AAS can take to improve the status of women in astronomy and encourage their entry into this field," was adopted by the Council in June 1980.

Cowley, A. et al. 1974, BAAS, 6, 413 Liller, M. et al. 1980, BAAS, 12, 624 Simkin, S. 1999 in The American Astronomical Society's First Century (American Institute of Physics/Springer Verlag) - David DeVorkin editor.

— This page last updated: September 13, 2011