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COLLECTION Identifier: SC 142

Papers of Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, 1890-1997


Papers of Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, Radcliffe College Class of 1928.


  • Creation: 1890-1997

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


.42 linear feet ((1 file box) plus 1 folio+ photograph folder)

This collection includes genealogical information, articles by and about Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas, information about the Trans World Airlines Cosmic Contest, transcript of interview regarding Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Radiation Laboratory, photographs of radar on United States Navy ships (1941-1945), family photographs, and memorabilia.


Helen Meriwether Lewis Thomas was born in New York City on August 21, 1905, to Helen Burdick Lewis and Charles Henry Lewis, Jr. She was graduated from St. Catherine's School in Westhampton, Richmond, Virginia in 1924 and from Radcliffe College in 1928.

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

Accession numbers: R97-29, R98-2

These papers were given to the Radcliffe College Archives by Roger M. Thomas, Helen Thomas's son, in December 1997 and January 1998.

Processing Information

Processed: June 1998 and November 2006

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
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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