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COLLECTION Identifier: HUGB P182.XX

Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, circa 1950s-1990s, 2000

Overview

Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979), Phillips Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University (1956-1966) was a pioneer in astrophysics and a leading authority on variable stars.

Dates

  • 1924, 1950s-1990s, 2000

Creator

Conditions on Use and Access

Online digital images are open for research. Permission of the Harvard University Archives is required for access to the Dyer's and biographical material. Letters are closed for 80 years.

Extent

0.2 cubic feet (3 pamphlet binders, 1 accordion folder, and 6 digital images)
0.002 gigabytes*

Biographical note

Introduction

Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979), the first woman to attain a full professorship through a regular faculty promotion at Harvard University, was a pioneer in astrophysics and a leading authority on the brightness of variable stars. Her work was of fundamental importance in the study of stellar atmospheres and the research techniques that she perfected for analyzing starlight photographically were widely used and helped provide astronomers with a better understanding of the composition of stars.

Education and Research

Gaposchkin was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England on May 10, 1900 to Edward Payne and Emma Pertz. Growing up in England, Gaposchkin attended both religious and private grammar schools. In 1919 she entered Newnham College at Cambridge University with the intention of studying botany, physics, and chemistry. However, after listening to a lecture by astrophysicist Arthur Eddington about solar eclipses, she decided to change her academic direction and pursue a career in astronomy. At Newnham College, Gaposchkin attended as many astronomy classes as she could, set up a telescope, and presided over the college's Science Society.

Faced with limited academic opportunities in Great Britain, Gaposchkin decided to attend school in the United States and applied for a fellowship to do research at the Harvard College Observatory in 1923. She became one of the first students in Harvard's new graduate program in astronomy. Gaposchkin continued her studies of variable stars as the first PhD student in astronomy at Radcliffe College in 1924. Gaposchkin's research work at Radcliffe involved the analysis of Harvard University's immense collection of spectra photographs, a collection consisting of tens of thousands of images. Her findings, published in her work entitled Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars, determined stellar temperatures and established that stars were made up of hydrogen and helium with traces of other elements.

Upon graduation, Gaposchkin continued her work at Harvard as an astronomer pursuing her studies of the stars and the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy. In collaboration with her husband, Sergei, a Russian astronomer émigré working at the observatory, Gaposchkin undertook the systematic investigation of all known variable stars brighter than the tenth magnitude and published her results in 1938. Her work, Variable Stars, became the standard reference in the field. During the 1930's and 1940's, both Cecilia and Sergei, together with 29 assistants in the Observatory, made more than 1,250,000 observations of variable stars and laid the groundwork for all subsequent work on them and their use as indicators of the structure of the galaxy. Finally, in the 1960's, the Gaposchkins made more than two million photographic estimates of the stars in the two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way Galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds.

Conclusion

Gaposchkin entered Harvard's academic community when opportunities for women in the field of astronomy were limited. Despite her discoveries, she lacked the recognition afforded her male counterparts and received a smaller salary. In addition to her scientific work, she edited the volumes published by the Harvard Observatory and papers submitted by the staff to outside journals. She also taught a series of astronomy lecture courses. It was not until 1938 that she received a permanent appointment to the Harvard staff; in 1956 she finally received a full professorship. That same year she became chair of the Astronomy Department, the first woman to chair a department at Harvard University. She retired from active teaching in 1966.

Gaposchkin was recognized by her peers for her definitive studies of variable stars. She authored or coauthored nine books and 351 papers between 1925 and 1979. These studies of variable stars and novae were widely read by both students and astronomers and helped define the structure of the galaxy and the paths of stellar evolution.

Family

Cecilia Gaposchkin married Sergei in 1934. They had three children: Edward Michael, Katharine Leonora (Haramundanis), and Peter John Arthur.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin died on December 7, 1979
Bibliography
  1. Ginerich, Owen. The Most Brilliant PhD Thesis Ever Written in Astronomy. In The Starry Universe: The Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Centenary. Schenectady, New York : L. Davis Press, 2001.
  2. Goldberg, Leo, Fred L. Whipple, Charles A. Whitney and Owen Gingeric.Memorial Minute: Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin. Harvard University Gazette (May 8, 1981) : 6.
  3. Kidwell, Peggy Aldrich. Three Women of American Astronomy. American Scientist 78 (May-June, 1990) : 244-251.
  4. Kidwell, Peggy Aldrich. Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia. American National Biography Online February 2000. (http://80-www.anb.org.ezp1.harvard.edu/articles/13/13-02107.html. Access Date: Tuesday February 3, 2004.)
  5. Wayman, Patrick A. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: astronomer extraordinaire.Astronomy and Geophysics 43, no. 1 (2002) : 1.27-1.29.
Biographical / Historical
  • 1900 Born May 10, Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England
  • 1919-1923 Attended Newnham College at Cambridge University
  • 1923Started first research at Harvard College ObservatoryElected member of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 1924 Elected member of American Astronomical Society
  • 1925 Received PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College
  • 1925-1927 Research Fellow at the Harvard College Observatory
  • 1927-1938 Technical Assistant to Harlow Shapley, Harvard College Observatory
  • 1933 Awarded Annie J. Cannon Prize recognizing the work of exceptional women astronomers (first winner)
  • 1934, March 6Married Sergei Gaposchkin
  • 1936 Elected member of American Philosophical Society
  • 1938 Appointed Phillips Astronomer at Harvard University
  • 1938 Published Variable Stars
  • 1942 Received honorary degree from Wilson College, Doctor of Science
  • 1943 Elected member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 1945-1947 President of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi chapter at Radcliffe College
  • 1948 Appointed Lecturer of Astronomy at Harvard University
  • 1950 Received honorary degree from Cambridge University, Doctor of Science
  • 1951 Received honorary degree from Smith College, Doctor of Science
  • 1952 Presented with Award of Merit from Radcliffe College
  • 1952 Published Stars in the Making
  • 1953 Received honorary degree from Western College for Women, Doctor of Science
  • 1954 Published Variable Stars and Galactic Structure
  • 1956-1966 Professor of Astronomy
  • 1956-1960 Chairperson of the Astronomy Department (first woman department chairperson at Harvard)
  • 1957Awarded Annual Achievement Award of the American Association of University WomenPublished Galactic Novae
  • 1958Appointed Phillips Professor of AstronomyReceived honorary degree from Colby College
  • 1961 Awarded Rittenhouse Medal from Franklin InstituteReceived honorary degree from Women's Medical College of Philadelphia
  • 1966 Retired from teaching
  • 1967Appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus Received staff appointment at the Smithsonian Astrophysical ObservatoryAwarded Henry Norris Russell Prize from the American Astronomical Society
  • 1974 Planet 1974CA named in her honor
  • 1977 Awarded Henry Norris Russell Lectureship from the American Astronomical Society
  • 1979Published Stars and clustersDied December 7
Chronology
1900
Born May 10, Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England
1919-1923
Attended Newnham College at Cambridge University
1923
Started first research at Harvard College Observatory
Elected member of the Royal Astronomical Society
1924
Elected member of American Astronomical Society
1925
Received PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College
1925-1927
Research Fellow at the Harvard College Observatory
1927-1938
Technical Assistant to Harlow Shapley, Harvard College Observatory
1933
Awarded Annie J. Cannon Prize recognizing the work of exceptional women astronomers (first winner)
1934, March 6
Married Sergei Gaposchkin
1936
Elected member of American Philosophical Society
1938
Appointed Phillips Astronomer at Harvard University
1938
Published Variable Stars
1942
Received honorary degree from Wilson College, Doctor of Science
1943
Elected member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1945-1947
President of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi chapter at Radcliffe College
1948
Appointed Lecturer of Astronomy at Harvard University
1950
Received honorary degree from Cambridge University, Doctor of Science
1951
Received honorary degree from Smith College, Doctor of Science
1952
Presented with Award of Merit from Radcliffe College
1952
Published Stars in the Making
1953
Received honorary degree from Western College for Women, Doctor of Science
1954
Published Variable Stars and Galactic Structure
1956-1966
Professor of Astronomy
1956-1960
Chairperson of the Astronomy Department (first woman department chairperson at Harvard)
1957
Awarded Annual Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women
Published Galactic Novae
1958
Appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy
Received honorary degree from Colby College
1961
Awarded Rittenhouse Medal from Franklin Institute
Received honorary degree from Women's Medical College of Philadelphia
1966
Retired from teaching
1967
Appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus
Received staff appointment at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Awarded Henry Norris Russell Prize from the American Astronomical Society
1974
Planet 1974CA named in her honor
1977
Awarded Henry Norris Russell Lectureship from the American Astronomical Society
1979
Published Stars and clusters
Died December 7

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Accession number: 08396; 1976 July 6.
  2. Accession number: 09074; 1980 November 21.
  3. Accession number: 12759; 1993 September 21.
  4. Accession number: 2016.044; 2015 December 17.

Related Material in the Harvard University Archives

  1. Stellar atmospheres : a contribution to the observational study of high temperature in the reversing layers of stars, Payne-Gaposchkin's Ph.D. dissertation (Rad T. P346)
  2. Magellanic Clouds, contains seventeen photographic charts of Magellanic Clouds. One is reportedly by Henrietta Leavitt and other persons not identified. Used by Gaposchkin and Frances Wright. (UAV 630.253)
  3. Photographs of Cecilia Gaposchkin working with a blink microscope, ca. 1940's, Gaposchkin portrait photograph, 1956, and a group portrait of astronomers including Gaposchkin and Harlow Shapley, ca. 1924. (HUP Payne-Gaposchkin)
  4. Papers of Harlow Shapley, 1906-1966, contain correspondence folders for Sergei and Cecilia Gaposchkin. (HUG 4773.10)
  5. Papers of Annie Jump Cannon, 1863-1978, contain photographs of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. (HUGFP 125)
  6. Records of the Office of News and Public Affairs: Photographs, contain photographs of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. (UAV 605)

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 November 2.

Processing Information

Archivists compiled this inventory incorporating several small acquisitions of material relating to Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin in 2003. Accession 2016.044 was added to this collection September 20, 2016.
Link to catalog
Title
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia, 1900-1979 - Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin : an inventory
EAD ID
hua03004

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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