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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 779; T-428; MP-35

Papers of Joanne Simpson, 1890-2010 (inclusive), 1950-1995 (bulk)


Articles and papers, work journals, photographs, and biographical material of meteorologist and atmospheric scientist Joanne Simpson.


  • 1890-2010
  • Majority of material found within 1950-1995

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research, but an appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Joanne Simpson is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. 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.


8.85 linear feet ((18 file boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 1 folio+ folder, 20 photograph folders, 2 audiotapes, 1 motion picture, and electronic records)
35.7 Megabytes (3 files)
Collection includes articles and papers written by Simpson, work journals, personal and professional photographs, and other biographical material documenting the work and personal life of meteorologist and atmospheric scientist Joanne Simpson. Her professional papers and work notebooks detail the thought processes and product of a meteorologist. Researchers interested in the development of concepts and experiments will find meticulous notes kept throughout Simpson's career, illustrating her evolution of ideas, experimentation, and results, often revisiting concepts. Simpson's four volumes of bound papers (#7.1v-8.2v) cover her writing and findings throughout her career, results she shared through professional publications and mainstream journals. Upon agreement to donate her papers to the Schlesinger Library, Simpson attempted to explain and detail her work and life through narratives she wrote, which accompanied her regular deliveries of papers to the library over a twenty-year period. These narratives can be found throughout all four series, explaining the material sent, whether it was professional or personal, as well as describing the background. Simpson was aware that the contributions she had made to her field were highlighted through articles, papers, and her notebooks, however, she also attempted to document her personal life in these narratives as well. She also spent a great deal of time captioning each photograph included in the collection. Electronic records were received in 6 DVDs. DVDs were imaged using FTK imager. Selected data has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery.

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

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1926-2010 (#1.1-2.1, E.1-E.2) includes correspondence; narratives of Simpson's family history and her personal relationships; a travel diary of Southeast Asia, India, Middle East, Egypt, and Eastern Mediterranean trip from 2001; and obituary and tribute articles upon Simpson's death. Additional material received as electronic files will be reformatted at some future date. Folder titles were created by the archivist. Folders are listed in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within.

Series II, PROFESSIONAL, 1945-2007 (#2.2-9.1, 19F+B.1m - 19F+B.4m, F+D.1), includes four bound volumes of Simpson's scientific papers and articles covering research results, surveys, reviews, and analysis of progress on projects, a majority of which were published in peer-reviewed journals and a small amount from multi-disciplinary media. Her earlier papers were authored under the name Joanne Starr Malkus, and after 1964 as Joanne Simpson. She compiled her honors and awards into files (1960s and 1970s) and a notebook (1980s and 1990s), which includes clippings, photographs, correspondence, and event programs. Simpson also compiled scrapbooks throughout her career, which include clippings, photographs, press releases, etc., about projects from the 1950s to 1970s. Her dissertation for a meteorology PhD (1949); interview transcripts re: her career as a women scientist and exit interview from NASA; project files; and lesson plans for college courses she taught on meteorology and oceanography in the 1960s at UCLA are also included in this series. Simpson contributed material to a traveling exhibition on women in science that ran from 1985 to 1995 ("Women in Science," later renamed "My Daughter the Scientist") which included not only work-related material such as a model of a waterspout cloud and a dummy silver iodide flare, but also her pointe ballet shoes from her time studying ballet as an adult. This exhibition material, as well as exhibition text and correspondence, can be found in this series. Original folder titles are listed in quotations, while the rest were created by the archivist. Folders are listed in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within.

Series III, WORK NOTEBOOKS, 1947-2006 (#9.2-18.11, E.3) includes notebooks kept throughout Simpson's career, beginning with the development of her Ph.D. dissertation and followed by documentation of research ideas and results of experiments. These notebooks also include staff meeting notes taken while working at Goddard Space Flight Center, speech drafts, and notes from lectures attended. Simpson wrote in these notebooks almost daily, recording then discarding ideas, often re-reading her notebooks after more experience was gained or a discussion with a colleague, revisiting rejected ideas. This type of revisiting situation occurred often during her work with the GATE project. Simpson's narratives regarding these projects are invaluable; she wrote in-depth descriptions of her career, projects, as well as explanations for her first grouping of notebooks (1947-1957). This narrative is in #9.2. Original folder titles are listed in quotations. When possible, folder descriptions were supplemented using Simpson's narrative. The notebooks are arranged in chronological order, following the narrative.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS AND AUDIOVISUAL MATERIAL, 1890-2001 (#PD.1-PD.20, T-428.1 - T-428.2, MP-35.1) includes photographs of Simpson with brother Dan (aka "Jerry") as children; with her parents, husbands, children, friends, and co-workers; receiving awards; participating in flight missions for experiments; etc. For a majority of the photographs, Simpson has written captions either on the reverse side or provided a separate document, listing of photograph numbers with their captions. A number of the early photographs were removed by Simpson from mother Virginia Vaughan Gerould's albums. Transcripts of the audiotapes can be found in Series II (#3.5). The motion picture illustrates Simpson's flying missions to view cloud formations. Folders are arranged by format. Original folder titles are in quotes.


Meteorologist and atmospheric scientist Joanne (Gerould) Simpson was born near Boston, Massachusetts, on March 23, 1923, the elder of two children of Russell and Virginia (Vaughan) Gerould. Her mother campaigned for women's rights and worked in journalism and public relations; her father was aviation editor for the Boston Herald. Simpson graduated from Buckingham High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1940). She was drawn to meteorology while a student at the University of Chicago. Simpson was asked to train as a weather officer, teaching United States combat pilots about weather during World War II. She received her undergraduate degree in 1943 from University of Chicago and continued her studies there, completing her master's degree (M.S. 1945) under the guidance of meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby. She began work on cloud research with meteorologist Herbert Riehl, who also served as her Ph.D. advisor. Simpson and Riehl co-wrote several well-received papers on hurricanes and tropical meteorology, which explained how the atmosphere moved heat and moisture away from the tropics to higher latitudes. This "hot tower" hypothesis, supported by Simpson's models of cumulus clouds, helped explain how the trade winds keep blowing and how hurricanes retain the heat that powers them. In 1949, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology. Meanwhile, Simpson married Victor Starr in 1944; their son David was born in 1945. The marriage ended in divorce; she married Willem Malkus in 1948; a son Steven was born in 1950 and a daughter Karen in 1961.

Simpson's first job as a research meteorologist was at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod in 1951. She studied tropical clouds by flying in a Navy-provided plane full of equipment over the Pacific Ocean. Simpson filmed clouds as they formed on these flights and later drew maps based these images. She became a pioneer in the use of aircraft, computer modeling, and weather modification in the study of the Earth's atmosphere. While at Woods Hole, Simpson won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1954) to work in England and later became an honorary lecturer at London's Imperial College. In 1960, she left Woods Hole to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she began her work on weather modification and wrote two books on the subject.

In the 1960s, Simpson became an advisor to the United States Weather Bureau's National Hurricane Research Project, where she participated in Project Stormfury, a weather modification experiment focusing on how to weaken hurricanes. In 1965, Simpson married her third husband, Robert (Bob) Simpson, head of the United States Weather Bureau's Severe Storms Program. The Simpsons moved to Miami, Florida, where Bob Simpson became the Director of the National Hurricane Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Joanne Simpson headed the Experimental Meteorology Laboratory from 1965 to 1974.

Simpson briefly took a teaching position at the University of Virginia (UVA) and in 1976, became the first woman to be named W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences. In 1979, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) started the Laboratory for Atmospheres at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and offered Simpson a one-year position to head up the Severe Storms Board. Her position at NASA became permanent in 1981. Simpson was eventually asked to join the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Project in 1986, which involved launching a satellite into space, using radar to measure how much rain fell in tropical areas. She became the project scientist in 1987 and spent the next ten years on this project. In 1997, TRMM sent up its first meteorological radar satellite into space. Simpson considered TRMM to be her greatest contribution to science. She retired from NASA and died at the age of 86 in 2010.

Simpson received numerous awards. She was the first woman recipient of the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal in 1983, the highest award given by the American Meteorological Society, and also served as their first female president in 1989. In 2002, she became the first woman to win the International Meteorological Organization Prize.


The collection is arranged in four series:
  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1926-2010 (#1.1-2.1, E.1-E.2)
  2. Series II. Professional, 1945-2007 (#2.2-9.1, 19F+B.1m - 19F+B.4m, F+D.1)
  3. Series III. Work notebooks, 1947-2006 (#9.2-18.11, E.3)
  4. Series IV. Photographs and audiovisual material, 1890-2001 (#PD.1-PD.20, T-428.1 - T-428.2, MP-35.1)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 90-M31; 90-M126; 90-M174; 91-M42; 92-M95; 92-M117; 93-M172; 93-M189; 93-M194; 93-M196; 94-M2; 94-M113; 94-M123; 96-M9; 96-M149; 98-M12; 98-M89; 98-M97; 98-M175; 98-M191; 98-M194; 99-M25; 99-M45; 99-M95; 2000-M9; 2002-M176; 2003-M9; 2003-M54; 2004-M113; 2005-M21; 2005-M57; 2005-M95; 2005-M163; 2006-M61; 2006-M70; 2007-M101; 2007-M191; 2010-M118

The papers of Joanne Simpson were given to the Schlesinger Library by Joanne Simpson from April 1990 to October 2007 and by her husband, Robert Simpson, in June 2010.


Donors: Joanne Simpson

Accession numbers: 92-M117; 2004-M113

Processed by: Stacey Flatt

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:
  1. Hurricane! by Robert Simpson, 2003
  2. Cloud Systems, Hurricanes, and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) A Tribute to Dr. Joanne Simpson edited by Dr. Wei-Kuo Tao and Dr. Robert Adler, 2003
  3. Cloud Structure and Distributions over the Tropical Pacific Ocean by Joanne S. Malkus and Herbert Riehl, 1964


  1. AMS : American Meteorological Society
  2. BASC: American Meteorological Society's Board on Atmospheric Science and Climate
  3. FACE : Florida Cumulus Experiment
  4. GARP : Global Atmospheric Research Program
  5. GATE : GARP Atlantic Tropical Experiment
  6. GEWEX: Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment
  7. HIPLEX : High Plains Cooperative Program for Randomized Cloud Seeding Experiment
  8. NASA : National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  9. NOAA : National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  10. ODIN: Outsource Computer Project
  11. PEP : Precipitation Enhancement Project
  12. STAC: Science and Technology Committee for American Meteorological Society
  13. TRMM : Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Project
  14. UCLA : University of California, Los Angeles
  15. UVA : University of Virginia

Processing Information

Processed: February 2014

By: Stacey Flatt, with assistance of Emily Underwood

Updated and additional materials added: July 2017

By: Pablo Morales Henry
Link to catalog
Simpson, Joanne. Papers of Joanne Simpson, 1890-2010 (inclusive), 1950-1995 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

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.

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