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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 851

Papers of Irene K. Fischer, 1942-1991


Papers of Irene K. Fischer, mathematician and geodesist, includes typed memoir entitled Geodesy? What's That? My Personal Involvement in the Age-old Quest for the Size and Shape of the Earth; also photographs, diaries, correspondence, awards, notes for speeches, reprints, etc.


  • Creation: 1942-1991

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Dr. Michael M.J. Fischer holds copyright to Irene Fischer's memoir. At his death, copyright will be transferred to President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library.

Copying. Portions of the memoir and the additional papers, but not the entire text, may be copied for the use of individual researchers in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


5.6 linear feet ((13 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 10 photograph folders)

The collection contains papers relating to Irene K. Fischer's life as a geodesist and author including biographical and personal materials, such as awards, a biography, and employment records during her tenure at the Army Map Service. Correspondence is general in nature and includes both incoming and outgoing letters between Fischer and her colleagues. Writings include her memoir along with her husband Dr. Eric Fischer's memoir. Professional files on various subjects including geophysics, as well as photographs are contained in the collection.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1942-1979 (#1.1-2.7, FD.1) contains biographical information about Fischer, commendations, employment records and job descriptions from her tenure at the Army Map Service. Of particular interest is material related to pay discrimination against women at the Topographic Production Center Department of Geodesy and Geophysics in which her concerns about pay inequity were addressed. The series is arranged in alphabetical order.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1954-1977 (#2.8-4.2) consists of general correspondence with a focus on geodesy especially in North America. The majority of the letters contain speaking engagement requests, as well as requests for publication of Fischer's presentations and papers. Main correspondents are B.G. Bomford, J.J. Levallois, Richard Rapp, and Narendra Saxena. The series is arranged in chronological order.

Series III, WRITINGS, 1954-1991 (#4.3-6.6) includes typescript drafts of Fischer's literary works including her memoir, "Geodesy? What’s That? My Personal Involvement in the Age-Old Quest for the Size and Shape of the Earth, With a Running Commentary on Life in a Government Research Office," about her career and succeeding in a male dominated field. The bulk of the series contains reprints and presentations at various conferences including The Annual Convention of the Canadian Institute of Surveying (1968), the American Geophysical Union (1969), and the Symposium on Marine and Coastal Geodesy at the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (1975). Also included is a memoir by Fischer's husband, Dr. Eric Fischer.

Series IV, PROFESSIONAL FILES, 1951-1976 (#6.7-14.7) contains material on various subjects including altimetry, geodesy, and geophysics. The bulk of the series contain branch diaries written by Fischer detailing measurements of the Earth and material from conferences attended by Fischer including the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, and the Pan American Institute of Geography and History. The series is arranged in alphabetical order.

Series V, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1957-1975 (PD.1-PD.10) contains photographs of Irene Fischer and her colleagues. Of particular interest are photographs of Fischer receiving various awards from the Army Map Service as well as images from her retirement party in 1975. The series is arranged in chronological order.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Irene Kaminka Fischer, a mathematician and geodesist, was born July 27, 1907 in Vienna, Austria. While a student, she studied descriptive geometry at the Technical University of Vienna and mathematics at the University of Vienna. In 1931, she married Eric, a geographer, and immigrated to the United States with their young daughter, Gay, in 1939. Her son, Michael, was born in 1946. In the 1950s, Fischer began working for the Army Map Service, now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Army Geospatial Center in Potomac, Maryland. During her tenure, she worked on the World Geodetic System project and produced many scientific presentations and publications. She published a high school geometry textbook in 1965. In 1967, she was the first Army Map Service employee, and only the third woman ever, to receive the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. After 25 years of government service, she retired from the Army Map Service in 1975. Fischer died on October 22, 2009. For a more detailed biography, please visit Wikipedia.


The collection is arranged info five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1942-1979 (#1.1-2.7, FD.1)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1954-1977 (#2.8-4.2)
  3. Series III. Writings, 1954-1991 (#4.3-6.6)
  4. Series IV. Professional files, 1951-1976 (#6.7-14.7)
  5. Series V. Photographs, 1957-1975 (PD.1-PD.10)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 89-M19, 91-M100, and 91-M107.

The papers of Irene K. Fischer were given to the Schlesinger Library by Irene Fischer in 1989 and 1991.

Processing Information

Processed: March 2016

By: Amber L. Moore, with assistance from Margaret Dalton.

Fischer, Irene K.. Papers of Irene K. Fischer, 1942-1991: A Finding Aid
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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