Papers of Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, 1890-1997
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Use
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
.42 linear feet ((1 file box) plus 1 folio+ photograph folder)
As an undergraduate at Radcliffe, Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas studied astronomy and after graduation she worked on variable stars at the Harvard College Observatory. She married Frederick M. Thomas soon after graduation but the marriage did not last and she found it necessary to support her son Roger Thomas and herself. During World War II she worked at the Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard and then, until 1947, at the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She became a senior engineer at the Raytheon Manufacturing Company, working on guidance-control problems (1947-1954), and subsequently she was editor, later head, of Publications at the Research Laboratory of Electronics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas started part-time graduate study in 1937 in the History of Science department at Harvard and was the first woman and second American to earn the Ph.D (1948) in History of Science. Her dissertation, The Early History of Variable Star Observing to the 19th Century was considered a masterpiece.
In 1956, Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas entered the "Cosmic Contest" in which Trans World Airlines promised a handsome prize thirty years later to the contestant making the most accurate prediction as to the nature of air travel thirty years into the future. She won the contest by correctly predicting the range, cruising speed, and passenger capacity of commercial aircraft, and that they would be powered by jet engines. The contest attracted considerable attention from the press and a prize of $50,000.
For the last twenty years of her life, Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas was secretary for her Radcliffe class of 1928, keeping up-to-date records of the activities and accomplishments of her classmates.
Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas died at the age of 91 on August 6, 1997, leaving her son Roger, his wife, and two grandchildren.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These papers were given to the Radcliffe College Archives by Roger M. Thomas, Helen Thomas's son, in December 1997 and January 1998.
By: Isabelle Bland Dry '35 and Michael Thompson
- Thomas, Helen Meriwether Lewis. Papers of Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, 1890-1997: A Finding Aid
- Radcliffe College Archives, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- EAD ID
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