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COLLECTION Identifier: UAV 630.28.5

Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director Bart J. Bok : subject files


The Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director Bart J. Bok : subject files document the activities, research, administrative functions, and social events of the Agassiz and Boyden Stations in Harvard, Massachusetts and Bloemfontein, South Africa, respectively, from 1944 to 1957. The bulk of this series contains records pertaining to Boyden Station; incoming and outgoing correspondence highlights Bok’s engagement with the station's astronomers and staff members. Newspaper clippings, reports, photographs, packing lists, and inventories, give insight into the routine operations, research programs, and management of Boyden Station.


  • 1944-1957


Language of Materials

This series contains materials in English, as well as in German, Dutch, and Afrikaans.

Researcher Access

This series is open for research with the following exception: Personnel and student records are closed for 80 years. Specific restrictions are noted at the folder level; please see reference staff for details.


.7 cubic feet
7 photographs

The Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director Bart J. Bok : subject files document the activities, research and administrative functions, and social events of the Agassiz and Boyden Stations in Harvard, Massachusetts and Bloemfontein, South Africa, from 1944 to 1957. The bulk of this series consists of correspondence, reports, and newspaper clippings pertaining to Boyden Station, and highlights Bok’s engagement with its astronomers and staff members. One folder contains material primarily generated during Bok’s time spent on site at Boyden Station in 1950 and 1951, documenting his involvement in the routine activities at the station as well as his increased administrative responsibilities following the sudden death of its director, John Stefanos Paraskevopoulos, in 1951. Bok corresponded with Harvard College Observatory astronomer Margaret Olmsted significantly during his stay in Bloemfontein. The two frequently discussed astronomical instruments at the station, administrative matters, and the social dynamics of Boyden Station and the Harvard College Observatory.

Correspondence and reports document the changes in administrative leadership that occurred at Boyden Station following Bok’s return to Cambridge in 1952. Astronomers Eric Merwyn Lindsay and Henry Smith served as interim superintendents of Boyden Station and corresponded with Bok regarding the station’s instruments, management, staff, research programs, visits from foreign astronomers, and its facilities and maintenance. A significant portion of this series relates to the Harvard Corporation's decision to terminate funding for Boyden Station and liquidate its assets in 1953, resulting in an anticipated closure of operations. Correspondence, reports, and newspaper clippings demonstrate the impact of this decision on the professional astronomical community at the Harvard College Observatory, Boyden Station, and abroad. During this time, Bok corresponded with numerous astronomers and observatories, primarily based in Europe, to consider solutions that would ensure Boyden Station’s continued operation. Staff changes, malfunctioning instruments, particularly the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard telescope, research programs, and plate transfers, are also documented in correspondence with individuals at Boyden Station, particularly with Henry Smith and his wife, astronomer Elske van Panhuys Smith, who carried out individual research using Boyden Station’s instruments and helped manage the station.

One folder in this series contains correspondence and reports documenting topics and events related to the Oak Ridge Station in Harvard, Massachusetts between 1944 and 1957. Use of observatory instruments, social events, and interactions between Harvard College Observatory astronomers, as well as issues regarding maintenance of the station’s buildings and facilities, are recurring topics of the correspondence. A significant portion of this folder, primarily in the form of observing schedules and reports, discusses specific astronomical instruments at the station and their functions in astronomical research. The construction and installation of a 60-foot radio telescope at Oak Ridge Station was frequently discussed during these years, particularly in correspondence between Bok and Harvard College Observatory director Donald Menzel.

The prevalence of women astronomers, including Harvard College Observatory astronomers Dorrit Hoffleit, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Margaret Olmsted, and Elske van Panhuys Smith, is documented in correspondence and reports throughout the series. Correspondence between Bok and Smith highlights her role in carrying out astronomical research at Boyden Station, particularly with polarization of southern stars and use of the Harvard Polarimeter, as well her work in the station's management. Numerous letters between Bok and Olmsted additionally demonstrate Olmsted's assistance in the Harvard College Observatory's administration.

Seven photographs included in this series depict astronomers and presumed staff members at Boyden Station, buildings and the surrounding landscape, and the Southern Milky Way.

Historical note on the Harvard College Observatory

The Harvard College Observatory was founded in 1839 by the Harvard Corporation after decades of attempts to develop an observatory at Harvard University. Under the Observatory's first two directors, William Cranch Bond and his son, George Phillips Bond, the Observatory began an extensive study of the Orion Nebula and Saturn, discovering the eighth satellite of Saturn, Hyperion in 1848; and the dark inner ring of Saturn (the Crepe Ring) in 1850. Pioneers in astrophotography, the Bonds produced the first recognizable daguerreotype of the Moon and the star Vega in 1850; and the first photographic print of the Moon in 1857. The Observatory became the world's foremost producer of stellar spectra and magnitudes, established an observing station in Peru, and applied mass-production techniques to the analysis of data during the directorship of Edward C. Pickering from 1877 to 1919. Harlow Shapley, director of the Observatory in the 1950s, expanded the scope of the Observatory's galactic research tracking minor planets and asteroids in the Solar System and increasing its telescopic power with the establishment of the Oak Ridge station, also known as the George R. Agassiz Station, in Harvard, Massachusetts. In the 1960s and 1970s, Observatory directors Donald H. Menzel and Leo Goldberg maintained programs in solar and stellar astrophysics and space astronomy. In 1973, the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (founded in 1890) merged to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The Center is a research institute that carries on studies in astronomy, astrophysics, earth and space sciences, and science education.

Historical note on Boyden Station

In 1890, the Harvard College Observatory sent astronomer Solon Irving Bailey to South America to establish an observatory near Arequipa, Peru. Boyden Station, as it was named, was intended to perform photographic surveys of the sky not visible from Cambridge's northern latitude. In 1908, after severe weather rendered observations at Arequipa increasingly difficult, Bailey traveled to South Africa to explore potential new locations for Boyden Station. He eventually recommended a site near Bloemfontein, although a lack of funds delayed the move until 1927. Bloemfontein's first and longtime director was Greek astronomer John S. Paraskevopoulos, who held the post from 1927 until his death in 1951. Harvard stopped its direct financial support of the site in 1966.

The area in which Boyden Station was established was referred to as the Cape Colony at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was a British colony established in 1806 in what is now South Africa. When the Union of South Africa formed in 1910, the area of the Cape Colony became part of the province of the Cape of Good Hope, also called Cape Province.

Historical note on Oak Ridge Observatory

In October 1931, the Harvard College Observatory established a new observing station on Oak Ridge in Harvard, Massachusetts. The Oak Ridge Observatory's research focused on tracking minor planets and asteroids, the measurement of stars, and the search for planets outside the solar system. In December 1951, Harvard University renamed the station the George R. Agassiz Station in honor of George R. Agassiz (AB 1884) in recognition of his role in planning and constructing the observatory and his lifelong interest in astronomy. Agassiz served on the Harvard University Board of Overseers from 1924 to 1937 and was its president for eight years. In August 1982, the "Agassiz Station" name was transferred to the Harvard Radio Astronomy Station at Fort Davis, Texas, which had been established in 1956 as a separate facility. The Texas site was officially renamed the George R. Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory. As a result, the observatory returned to its original name, becoming known as the Oak Ridge Observatory. Harvard University owned the observatory while Harvard Smithsonian Center staff conducted research. The Oak Ridge Observatory officially closed in August 2005.

Historical note on the George R. Agassiz Station

The George R. Agassiz Station was established as the Fort Davis Radio Astronomy Station in 1956 by the Harvard College Observatory, with financial assistance from the United States Air Force, and under the leadership of solar radio astronomer Alan Maxwell, in Fort Davis, Texas. The Station focused on radio bursts emanating from flares and sunspots on the solar disk. Construction of a 28-foot radio telescope at the station was completed in 1956 to monitor solar activity and record high intensity radio transmissions from solar flares. In 1961, an 85-foot radio telescope was built and expanded the station’s solar monitoring program by monitoring solar flares and surveying radio sources in the Milky Way. Beginning in March 1972, and continuing throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, the 85-foot radio telescope was implemented in a national Very Long Baseline Interferometry program that collected observations made from telescopes located across the country. In August 1982, the Fort Davis Radio Astronomy Station was officially renamed the George R. Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory.

Historical note on the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard telescope

The Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard (ADH) was a Baker-Schmidt telescope that was jointly owned and operated by the Irish Armagh and Dunsink Observatories and the Harvard College Observatory. The telescope was designed by astronomers Eric Mervyn Lindsay, Harlow Shapley, Bart J. Bok, and James Baker, and manufactured by the Perkin-Elmer Corporation. Construction of the ADH telescope was complete at Boyden Station in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1950. The ADH telescope was actively used throughout the 1950s through the 1970s for observing large sections of the Southern Milky Way system and Magellanic clouds, use of photographic photometry, and the study of cepheid variable stars.

Biographical note on Bart J. Bok

Bart J. Bok (1906-1983) was a Dutch-American astronomer. While still pursuing his graduate studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 1929, Bok moved to Cambridge to work at the Harvard College Observatory. That same year, Bok married fellow astronomer Priscilla Fairfield (1896-1975), and the two collaborated closely for the remainder of their lives.

Bok spent almost thirty years at Harvard: he completed his Doctoral dissertation in 1932, then became an assistant professor in 1933; he was promoted to an associate professor in 1939; then became associate director of the Harvard Observatory by 1946 and became a full professor in 1947, when he was appointed to the Robert Wheeler Wilson Chair in Astronomy. In 1950, Bok went to South Africa to set up Boyden Station's Schmidt telescope. He served as Boyden Station's acting superintendent following the death of John S. Paraskevopoulos in 1951.

Bok resigned from Harvard in 1957, when he became director of the Mount Stromlo Observatory in the Australian National University. In 1966, Bok went to the University of Arizona to head the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona, where he remained until his retirement in 1970. Bok died in 1983.

Biographical note on Eric Mervyn Lindsay

Eric Mervyn Lindsay (1907-1974) was an Irish astronomer. He earned his PhD from Harvard University in 1934, then became chief assistant at Boyden Station, where he remained from 1934 to 1937. While in South Africa, he married American astronomer Sylvia Mussells. Lindsay returned to Ireland in 1937 to become director of the Armagh Observatory. Following John Paraskevopoulos's sudden death in 1951, Lindsay temporarily served as acting director of Boyden Station from 1951 to 1952 before returning to Ireland. Lindsay died of a heart attack in 1974.

Biographical note on Elske van Panhuys Smith

Elske van Panhuys Smith (1929-), astronomer and solar physicist, was born on November 9, 1929 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. She came to the United States in 1943 and received her BS in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1950, her MA in 1951, and her PhD in 1956. She married fellow astronomer Henry J. Smith in 1950, and the two collaborated professionally throughout their lives. Smith aided her husband in his work as superintendent of the Boyden Station of the Harvard College Observatory in South Africa from 1952 to 1954. The couple remained working for the Harvard College Observatory until 1958.

Smith was a member of the faculty at the University of Maryland for more than 15 years and was dean and director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. She retired in 1995.

Biographical note on Henry J. Smith

Henry ("Harry") J. Smith (1928-1983), astronomer, received his PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1955. Smith was superintendent of Boyden Station from 1952 to 1954, following the death of John Paraskevopoulos. From 1955 to 1963, he directed the Solar Activity Patrol at the Sacramento Peak Observatory in New Mexico before leaving for NASA, where he served as Chief of the Solar Physics Program, then Deputy Director of Physics and Astronomy, and finally as Deputy Associate Administrator for Sciences and Applications. From 1976 until his death in 1983, he was a member of the Combat Support Systems Directorate in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition of the United States Department of the Army. Smith was married to fellow astronomer Elske van Panhuys Smith (1929-), and the two collaborated frequently, including as co-authors of the book, Solar Flares.


This series is arranged in alphabetical order.

Related Materials

The Harvard University Archives also holds:
  1. A catalogue of plates taken at the Boyden Observatory with the Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard telescope, November 27, 1950 to March 28, 1955 (HUF 165.560)
  2. Friends of the Boyden Station A Statement Regarding A Committee for the Boyden Station of Harvard Observatory (HUF 165.151.9)
  3. Photographs of Boyden Station in South Africa, circa 1930s-1950s (HUY 178)
  4. Records of Harvard College Observatory Boyden Station, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 1907-1956 and [undated] (UAV 630.110)
  5. Records from Oak Ridge Station, 1932-1938 (inclusive) (UAV 630.438)
  6. Miscellaneous Items Relating to Boyden Station, 1887-1951 (inclusive) (UAV 630.451)
  7. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director Bart J. Bok: administrative files, 1946-1957 (UAV 630.28):

Processing Information

This series was processed by Sarah Peyer-Nelson from March through July 2023. Processing included the physical rehousing of materials and the creation of this finding aid. Folder titles were transcribed from folders.

Some documents within this collection contain harmful language that is now considered racist and derogatory. Statements where this language appears are located at the item level.

Harvard College Observatory. Records of the Harvard College Observatory Associate Director Bart J. Bok : subject files, 1944-1957 : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
May 9, 2023
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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