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The women, from outwardly feisty to quietly mutinous, who made the Edwardian era so colorful.

Fascinating Women: Gibson Girls Gone Wild!

“Girls Will Be Girls” by Charles Dana Gibson, found at Blog of an Art Admirer.

In February I will be boarding a plane for Manila. It will take me 24 hours airport to airport, and that will feel like a long time. I will probably complain about how tired I am, or how small airline seats have become. Both will be true.

But my Edwardian sisters—known as “Gibson girls” after popular illustrator Charles Dana Gibson—would be shocked by how spoiled I am. For them, a trip from Boston to the Philippines would have taken seven weeks. And they thought themselves lucky, since the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal had cut the trip in half. Their bargain ticket would have cost $120 in 1900—the equivalent of almost $3500 today. My ticket cost around $800.

I also have another advantage: knowledge. I know what the Philippines are like. Things may have changed in the last five years, as things do, but generally I know what I will find. But my three Gibson girls featured here—Mary Fee, Annabelle Kent, and Rebecca Parrish, M.D.—did not. These women either had no information or bad information about the Philippines. For example, a United States senator, John W. Daniel, from Virginia explained that “there are spotted people there, and, what I have never heard of in any other country, there are striped people there with zebra signs upon them.” To you or me such drivel is beyond racist to the point of being ludicrously stupid, but Senator Daniel thought this information important enough to pass along in the middle of a government hearing.

If travel to the Philippines was long, expensive, and potentially dangerous, why did women like Fee, Kent, and Parrish do it? Their reasons probably varied. Fee, a teacher, may have gone for the good salary; Kent wanted to prove that she could travel the globe alone; and Parrish was a medical missionary whose faith led her to the islands. But there is one thing all three women had in common: they were more adventurous than the average man of their day. And they were probably more intrepid than me.

From left to right: the cover of Mary H. Fee’s memoir (from the New York Society Library); a portrait of Annabelle Kent in China (from her book Round the World in Silence); the legacy of Rebecca Parish as seen through a nurses’ basketball team for the Mary Johnston Hospital in 1909 (print for sale on eBay); and the classic Gibson girl image on a music score (courtesy of the Library of Congress).

Let’s start with Mary Fee, principal of the Philippine School of Arts and Trades in Roxas City. Fee was one of the first teachers sent by the U.S. Government to establish a secular, coeducational, public school system throughout the Philippines. The Thomasites, as they were called, were sent all over the islands with their Baldwin Primers to read lessons on snow, apples, and George Washington—and none of the students knew what the heck they were talking about. Mary Fee realized that the point was to teach her students to read and write in English, not to have a comprehensive understanding of American meteorology. Soon she was one of four authors (including another woman) of a new Philippine Education series. The First Year Book had lessons about Ramon and Adela, not Jack and Jill. They learned about carabao, not cows. Stories included the American flag, but it was small and in black-and-white, not a full-page color spread. The women went to market for fish and mangoes, and they wore traditional clothing. In other words, the book made sense to the children who read it.

Two pages from The Baldwin Primer and two from The First Year Book, showing the differences in content for the Philippine audience.

I relied upon Fee’s memoir, A Woman’s Impressions of the Philippines, for help in creating my character Georgina Potter in Under the Sugar Sun. I exercised artistic license, of course: Fee’s faithful description of the Christmas Eve pageant, for example, was turned into a courtship opportunity for my hero, Javier Altarejos. Though Fee would eventually return to the United States—not marry a Filipino sugar baron—I am happy to say that her spirit lives on.

In comparison to my careful researching of Mary Fee, I stumbled upon Annabelle Kent’s raucous description of arriving in Manila by ship. While everyone else had horrible seasickness, Kent thought the bumpy ride a blast. The ship bucked like a bronco, and she reveled in it. As I read more, though, I found Kent’s explanation for her sturdy sea-legs: she was deaf. She traveled the globe by herself without an ASL interpreter, and that took guts. It seemed to have started on a type of dare. Kent wrote:

A deaf young lady made the remark to me once that it was a waste of time and money for a deaf person to go to Europe, as she could get so little benefit from the trip. I told her that as long as one could see there was a great deal one could absorb and enjoy.

I knew right then that Annabelle Kent would be my model for a new character, Della Berget, in Hotel Oriente. At a time when American senators were postulating about people striped like zebras, Kent was getting a steamer and seeing everything for herself, including schools for the deaf in China and Japan. The book is the most joyful travel memoir I have ever read.

My final Gibson girl, Rebecca Parrish, was used to being a trendsetter. She was a doctor at a time when medicine was a possible career choice for a woman, but not a common one. And, in the Philippines, it was unheard of. One of her first skeptical patients asked, “Can a woman know enough to be a doctor?” Parrish had to prove herself a million times, by her own account, but she did.

Philippines stamp commemorating the centennial of Parrish’s creation, the Mary Johnson Hospital. Image courtesy of Colnect stamp catalog. The hospital on the left was Parrish’s original, which was destroyed in World War II. It was rebuilt larger, as pictured on the right.

Parrish built a 55-bed hospital in Tondo, the Mary Johnston Hospital, that operated on the principle that no one could be turned away. The hospital began its working life fighting a cholera epidemic but transitioned into a maternity clinic with a milk feeding station. Today, it is a teaching hospital specializing in internal medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics. Parrish also opened a training institute for nurses. If the doctor seems like a busy woman, you are correct. She wrote: “Hundreds of days—thousands of days, I worked twenty hours of the twenty-four among the sick, doing all that was in my power to do my part, and hoping the best that could be had for all.” I get tired just thinking about it.

Maybe these Gibson girls—Mary Fee, Annabelle Kent, and Rebecca Parrish—did not go “wild” in the cheap DVD series kind of way, but by contemporary standards they were braver than Indiana Jones. My trip to Manila will be tame by comparison, but I will try to honor the memory of those who came before me…and pick the in-flight movie they would want me to see.

The Lady Eve

The first book of Eve / Drawn by Fish
From “The first book of Eve / Drawn by Fish”

The early twentieth century can be considered the beginning of the golden age of illustration. From James Montgomery Flagg, to Charles Dana Gibson, to Nell Brinkley, magazines and advertisers and newspapers attracted and delighted millions of consumers using eye-catching graphics. On the other side of the pond, illustrators like Leslie Ward, Beatrix Potter, and Arthur Rackham, to name a few, brought England’s luminaries–and nature–to the masses. The popularity of witty illustrations didn’t end during WWI; in fact, it grew, particularly when paired with an unforgettable character. Britons of the Great War era found this in “Eve.” Created by Olivia Maitland Davidson in early 1914, the character was a “chatty, light-hearted society girl, flirtatious, vivatcious, fun loving, fond of fashion and ‘frivol’ (frivolity).” 1 Illustrated by Anne Harriet Fish, “Eve” harkened back to Aubrey Beardsley, but with an insouciant, feminine flair. Between the two talented women, “Eve” took readers’ minds off the grimness of the war with her exploits and adventures, and, as Luci Gosling argues, acted as a “tour guide to Great War Britain” through her letters to her best friend Betty.

August 5th, 1914.

Oh, Betty, so it’s really, really war ! It’s been the awfullest week-end … of course Cowes and every other plan blown to the winds utterly. One has just waited — your Eve must be at the heart of things, as well as of men! And here in London these last days the very heart of the world has seemed to beat. They were so vast, so far-reaching, the issues facing

England, our England,

one has felt as if we stood on the edge of a precipice.

Everything else has seemed dwarfed. With such great affairs at stake, even one’s own small personal interests, generally so important, haven’t mattered; they’ve been engulfed and swallowed up in the great cataclysm. No one’s cared to go anywhere or do anything, or make any kind of plans. We’ve been like a people suffering from shock, and even the masses didn’t, thank goodness, maffick over the Declaration of War — the nearest they got to it being to collect in large clumps round the Palace and at Westminster and cheer Majesties, Ministers and anyone else who turned up.

Nothing’s been talked of and nothing thought about except war, and all war may mean to this little island we all, at the bottom of our unexcitable English hearts, adore so passionately and so devotedly. I suppose truly and clearly to realise the real depth and size and nature of this most awful European convulsion — that isn’t possible But it’s been a nerve-shattering two weeks. We were all for peace, and we came to war. Truly a mad world, my masters.

Yours sadly,

October 21st, 1914.
Dearest Betty,

What’s been christened ” the Antwerp week-end ” has been a stern chastener of our spirits. And the treachery in South Africa, on top of the fearful wearingness of no news at all from the Front, fairly put the lid on it.

Still, here in London, save for the darkness, you’d even now hardly know we were at war — not from any outward and visible signs, anyway. The Dansants are still going merrily in Bond Street and elsewhere, you just can’t move at the Savoy for the dancing supper crowds, and ” There wasn’t a seat in the house,” I heard, on the very day that “impregnable” Antwerp fell, at a theatre where a German musical comedy is being run by a Hun proprietor.

But at Ostend, such is the rush of our wounded, they say they’ve been performing operations without chloroform — the supply of everything, doctors and nurses as well as medical necessities, is quite unequal to the demand. The W.O., I suppose, is doing its best, and everyone says the heroism of the R.A.M.C. in the field is simply wonderful. But it’s all been a million- times-bigger thing than anyone ever imagined, and our poor men, of course, are the sufferers for the muddle.

And meantime — well, really, you know, Betty, I’m not sure there isn’t a limit in war-time to the Business-as-Usual, Everything-as-Usual idea. Life must go on, of course, even in the midst of the dreadfullest of wars. But it’s really seemed hardly decent — the rush to Scotland, the crowd at the Cesarewitch, and the swarms shopping, theatreing, motoring and feeding just as usual everywhere, while over there it’s all we can do to keep our end up against the Hun and things are so awf’ly critical and difficult. It’s a much more in-the-picture, tho’ a rather touching sight — all those hundreds of thousands of our civilian men drilling away so intently in all the squares and open places everywhere. Most are hardly even in uniform yet, the rush on the factories and shops has been so tremendous. But they’re all tryin’ so very hard to be soldiers, poor dears, that sometimes they nearly make me cry, they do.

Doesn’t make things ‘zacly easier for them, you know, that such a lot of the men who rushed to the colours are the kind that aren’t used to discomfort. Roughing it in camps and sticking it in fearf’ly leaky huts is a stiff strain on the quality of patriotism, and some poor dears who’ve never slept before in anything but fine linen I’m told find the frequent liveliness of the army blanket not the least of life’s new crosses. But they’ve done a good five months’ work in five weeks, they say, such is their martial ardour, at which rate we’ll really have an army by Christmas, won’t we? And, ‘cording to the optimists, it’s just about by that date, too, you know, that we’ll also be starting on the long, long road to — no, not Tipperary, but Berlin.

Women, too, of course, are really getting through quite a lot of war- work, and “comforts” are going out to the troops and the Navy in such billions they say the ports are blocked with ’em. In the race to be charitable, seems only the motor-car owners aren’t quite coming up to the scratch. Cars are simply dreff’ly wanted in France, ‘specially for the wounded. But walk down Piccadilly any fine morning or afternoon and you can still count in hundreds the cars de luxe carrying ladies de luxe to nowhere in particular.

Yours, nearly dead knittin’,

March 1st, 1916.

Betty mine,

You wouldn’t b’lieve how womanly we’re getting ! Work-parties are the rage. And what ‘muses me is how the winsome war-workers always bind their heads up a la Red Cross sister and garb themselves that way, too. Very becoming, you know ; and I s’pose head-dress and uniform do help after you’ve sewn about the fifteenth shirt for soldiers. But they do say that gags ‘d be really more useful than anything. The talk that goes on in those work-rooms . . .

Rather a blow, by the way, when Lord Grenfell at the Horticultural Society’s Show last week said we simply must grow vegetables, and didn’t even mention flowers. Gardening’s been the last cult we thought the old war ‘d interfere with — so innocent and healthy and all that, you know, and so smart.

The Very Best people are all simply mad on Japanese gardens and sunk ones and water ones and pergolas and rose – walks and herb – runs and lavender hedges and all the rest. The talk of the town’s all of money, money, money; and we’re watchin’ out fearf’ly interested to see how the new War Savings Committee is going to start in to make people save ‘cos of the “grave condition of national finance.” Which even that most irrepressible of optimists, the P.M., now finds not only a serious but a ” staggering ‘ burden. There’s at least one millionaire among ’em, and a few more not eggzacly paupers, you know — Lord Curzon f ‘rinstance, and the Archbish of Canterbury, and Lord Burnham and Lord Balfour ; and p’r’aps to the mere outsider it doesn’t look as if domestic thrift’s quite the sort of subject for these kind of people to give advice on to those who support life on £2 a week as against their £200 or so.

Still, there certainly is quite a lot of economy goin’. Closing down the houses you don’t want and cutting down the courses at dinner f ‘rinstance, and talking about giving up your maid. But even then I s’pose we’re still left with lots more luxuries than’s really necessary to support life. There’s a story the Germ women are selling their wedding-rings to pay for tho war. Haven’t heard of anyone goin’ to any lengths like that here, have you? But really, you know, we get a bit discouraged at times. Did you hear of that canteen secretary person who wrote to tho papers the other day to say it ‘d be much better if the stream of ” fitful, irresponsible, capricious and easily offended lady workers “would do their own house work and so set free the real ivorkers? Great mind to take along Tou-Tou to bite her, I have.

The crocuses are all blazing away on the grass in the Park, and the trees bursting into bud, and the birds chirpin’ — another spring and still that awful war ! Tou-Tou and me we’re fair fed up with it we are. Really, if they ever do fix up about that new Air Minister they say we simply must have, I think I’ll have to get him to fly with me. There must be somewhere where there isn’t a war !

Yours flightily,

April 10th, 1917.
Dearest Betty,

So America’s really ” in ” at last ! Well, well . . . Better late, etc., but we won’t be able to call her ‘zacly a hustler any more, will we? Tho’ they do say that the U.S.A. Navy has really been quite looking forward to some fun some time. Fightin’s after all the fashion, you see, and for God’s own partic’lar country to be out of the ” movement ” for nearly three years . . . But now they have come, makes you quite breffless, the huge numbers the country that was too proud to fight seems to have to juggle with. Fifteen to twenty millions of men of military age ready to draw upon straight away. , . . Think of it !
Talk about some of us ” enjoying the war.” In this little land that we love we’ve known anyway a few war trials — our men leaving us every day and every day returning hurt and broken, or not returning ever; air raids and bombardments and conscription and all the rest. And never even at our gayest have we risen to such heights of revelry as they have in New York since Europe went to war and poured out her millions in millions.

Dancing’s the great craze, led by the Vernon Castles ; and the fearful expense of everything doesn’t in the very least matter ‘cos everyone’s got money to blow.

Here, so set is Sir Frankie Lloyd upon the primrose path of purity as the proper place for the modern soldier-man to walk in, that really we look like becoming respectable to tedium, and deader than the dodo soon will be our latent passion for dancing in the public places rag-time from Kentucky, Paris and Broadway. But the truth is, you know, as even the fluffiest are discovering, there just isn’t time for anything much these days ‘cept for battle-fighting. ” The strength of the brute’s stupendous even now,” a letter from the thick of it’s just told me. “Don’t you listen when they tell you the Hun’s nearly done. Done ! Not a bit of it. Much more like getting a fresh wind.”

And this Russian Revolution business — what does it all mean, and what’s it the beginning of, and how will it affect us? More effort, more treasure poured out, more everything for poor dear England, I suppose.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare,

sings W. H. Davies, poet. But it’ll have to be a “poor life,” I’m afraid, for once again the great man-power question’s the topic. They say if they can’t get enough from the rejected and Whitehall and the trade unions they’ll really have to put up the age-limit to forty-five and even fifty. Which, of course, the ‘thorities most dreff’ly don’t want to do. It’s this lot that pays most of the taxes, you see, and with a seven or eight million a day war to keep goin’, s’pose we do want a few businesses turning the money out.

They say, by the Way, that theatres are getting it a bit in the neck under the war regime. But I haven’t noticed any slump, tho’ really, you know, if revue does get soon to the shut-eye stage you couldn’t be frightfully surprised. No one’s said one funny thing or sung a pretty one at the last fifty I’ve been to. Made me almost agree with Mr. Bernard Shaw on the subject — ” The effect of revue is to reconcile me to death “; tho’ I wouldn’t like to be quite as drastic as Augustus John, who says, ” All are rotten. I hate ’em.” Nicely dined and wined, I can always do with anyway an hour of ’em, or say half an hour.

Yours While the Great Big World Keeps Turning,


The Letters of Eve by Olivia Maitland-Davidson

  1. Great War Britain: The First World War at Home by Lucinda Gosling.

Edwardian Women in STEM: The Harvard Computers

Edward Charles Pickering and his Computers standing in front of Building C at the Harvard College Observatory, 13 May 1913.
Edward Charles Pickering and his Computers standing in front of Building C at the Harvard College Observatory, 13 May 1913. L-R (rear): Margaret Harwood, Mollie O’Reilly, Pickering, Edith Gill, Annie Jump Cannon, Evelyn Leland, Florence Cushman, Marion Whyte, Grace Brooks — L-R (front): Arville Walker, Johanna Mackie, Alta Carpenter, Mabel Gill, Ida Woods

This year has been marked by the emergence of fantastic stories of women in science, most remarkable being the two books released this year about the role of women in the Space Race–Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls and Margot Lee Shetterley’s Hidden Figures. Having spent the last two and half months of the summer working on a NASA facility, where I uncovered more stories of the diversity of our involvement with exploration of the heavens, I don’t know why I was so surprised by the story of women computers. After all, I mentioned them in a novel I completed a little over a year ago, where my protagonist visits the Radcliffe Observatory in 1910s Oxford:

If Mr. Rambaut and his assistants were at all put out by her sex, they didn’t show it, treating her with more cordiality and patience than she expected. Mr. Rambaut was enthusiastic about her interest in the telescope, which had been installed nearly ten years before.
“As you can see, Miss Feversham, the twin telescope rests on a single German equatorial mount atop an elevating floor, which is was made of steel, cast-iron, and bronze.” Mr. Rambaut urged her closer to the eyepiece. “When the roof is opened, you can peer through either of the twin telescopic lenses. This one—the photographic part—boasts impressive twenty-four inch aperture and a twenty-two inch focal length. The visual telescope has an eighteen inch aperture and twenty-two inch focal length.”
Jessica gasped in delight when one of the assistants opened the roof. “How marvelous it must appear at night, with the sky full of stars and galaxies. You must be the first to boast of all manner of discoveries.”
“Indeed.” Mr. Rambaut nodded appreciatively. “Allow me to show you around.”
He escorted her around the gallery, mentioning some of the observations—astronomical and meteorological—they had conducted. They were due to mark their hourly meteorological observations within the next half hour.
“Might I observe as well?”
“You have a keen mind, Miss Feversham, but I’m afraid these studies are too taxing for the feminine brain,”
“There have been female computers at Harvard since the 1870s, under the direction of Edward Charles Pickering, Mr. Rambaut,” she said with a lift of her brow.
“Americans.” Mr. Rambaut lifted his eyebrows, as though that one word said everything.
Never Such Innocence

“Astronomers,” wrote Helen Leah Reed in an article published in the New England Magazine in the 1890s, “have always welcomed to their ranks women of genius like Caroline Herschell, Mary Somerville, and Maria Mitchell; and various European and American observatories have of late years employed not a few women computers.”1 However, women astronomers only found two career paths open to them: as professors in women’s colleges, or as assistants in large observatories.2

The employment of women began in the post-Civil War era, and as the nature of business became more complex, this spurred the emergence of the white collar worker who was formally trained in basic business skills like bookkeeping and typing. These very skills were considered transferable to the skilled work of computing. Though women were frequently paid less than male white collar workers, by 1875, “one out of six hundred office workers was female, and within a decade, women would fill one out of fifty jobs.”3

The employment of women as computers by the Harvard Observatory began in 1875, when Anna Winlock approached the new director for a position. Winlock was the eldest daughter of Joseph Winlock, the former director of the Observatory and former superintendent of the National Almanac, who had died suddenly, leaving his family nearly destitute. She was hired at 25 cents an hour, and was soon joined by Selina Bond, the daughter of her father’s predecessor, and Rhoda Saunders, a recent high school graduate recommended to the observatory by the Harvard President.4

When Edward C. Pickering became the director, he accelerated the hiring of women computers, and by 1880, the entire staff was made up of women. Pickering was considered liberal for his hiring of women, but he continued to offer them half the pay of male computers, declaring “to attain the greatest efficiency, a skillful observer should never be obliged to spend time on what could be done equally well by an assistant at a much lower salary.”5 Some women were offered 30-35 cents an hour, but all worked “six days a week, averaging seven hours daily, which they could divide by spending five at the Observatory and two at home in afternoon or evening.”6 Later, undoubtedly experiencing a twinge of guilt over the excellence of his computing staff, Pickering revised his earlier statements on salary, protesting “against the injustice of using skilled personnel year after year on the same wage scale.”7

The government was slower to hire women computers, with only Maria Mitchell and another woman working for the Coast Survey and the Nautical Almanac in 1893, and the Naval Observatory not hiring a female computer until 1901.8 Nevertheless, the female computers at Harvard (soon dubbed “Pickering’s Harem” as a fond, yet very telling moniker that revealed opinions about women in the male-dominated field), made a number of stellar discoveries in astrophysics, such as “Mrs. Fleming’s discovery that variable stars of a certain type may be proved variable by the bright lines in their spectra, and Miss Maury’s discovery that Beta Aurigae is a close binary, proved so from the study of its spectrum.”9 Helen Leah Reed describes their work as falling into three responsibilities:

  1. Computing, based on the work of others. For twenty years some women have always been included in the corps of Harvard computers.
  2. Original deductions (not necessarily star-work). Work of this kind has been carried on chiefly by special students of the Harvard Annex. In this class of work must be named a longitude campaign—probably the only longitude campaign ever conducted wholly by women, whereby Miss Byrd and Miss Whitney determined the precise distance in longitude between the Smith College and Harvard College Observatories. Miss Byrd is now director of the Smith College Observatory, and Miss Whitney is Maria Mitchell’s successor at Vassar. In this second class of work may be included also the making of a standard catalogue of the stars near the North Pole by Miss Anna Winlock, the daughter of a former director of the Harvard Observatory.
  3. The Henry Draper Memorial work, and four other investigations, less extensive, though similar in kind to those provided for by the Draper fund.

Pickering’s involvement with women in the field was enhanced by the financial contributions of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, whose husband, Dr. Henry Draper, who was a pioneer in the work of photographing stellar spectra. After his death, Mrs. Draper “at first thought of establishing in New York, an observatory equipped with his superb apparatus, and liberally endowed for the purpose of continuing the investigations begun by him in spectrum photography. But, realizing the importance of similar experiments already going on at the Harvard College Observatory, early in 1886 she placed at Professor Pickering’s service Dr. Draper’s eleven-inch telescope, and furnished sufficient money to test thoroughly certain experiments recently begun by him.”10

The first year of the Draper Memorial work at the observatory satisfied Mrs. Draper to the extent of enlarging the scope of her endowment, and Pickering, his lab, and his computers were tasked with cataloging the spectra of all stars north of—200, of the 6th magnitude, or brighter; creating a more extensive catalogue of spectra of stars brighter than the 8th magnitude; and a detailed study of the spectra of the bright stars; including a classification of the spectra, a determination of the wave lengths of the lines, a comparison with terrestrial spectra, and an application of the results to the measurements of the approach and recession of the stars.11 Though the work was conducted under the direction of Pickering and his astronomers, the “examination of the plates, the measurement of the position and the brightness of the stars, the discussion of the results obtained from the plates, and the forming of catalogues from these results,” were carried out by Mrs. Mina Fleming and her eight assistants.12

Antonia Maury, a graduate of Vassar College, conducted her own experiments under the Draper Memorial namely, the “detailed study and classification of the spectra of the brighter stars photographed with the eleven-inch telescope.13 Maury examined the photographs of the stars “visible in the latitude of the Harvard Observatory and discovered that Beta Aurigae was a close binary revolving in four days. The doubling of the lines in the spectrum of this object [wa]s similar to the doubling of the lines in Zeta Ursae Majoris, discovered to be a binary by Prof. Pickering.” Maury also investigated the spectra of stars of the Orion type. Another computer, Eve Leland, “measured 40,000 stars of about the tenth magnitude uniformly distributed over the sky, and these measurements will be reduced to a uniform scale to furnish standards of stellar magnitude.”14

Harvard’s women computers also worked with international stations, such as the station at Chosica in Peru, established in 1889. This station “afforded unexampled opportunities for photographing the entire heavens from pole to pole….All the plates taken in Peru are sent to the Harvard Observatory, and are there examined as above described…[and] the records of two valuable original observations made at the Chosica Station by Messrs. S. I. & M. H. Bailey have also been reduced, catalogued, and prepared for the printer by the Draper Memorial women assistants.”15

Besides the “Draper Memorial” work, four other Harvard Observatory investigations were published with the aid of the women assistants.

  1. The catalogue of 1,000 stars within 10 of the North Pole (of these only forty are in other catalogues.)
  2. A study of the Pleiades. This group will probably always be used by astronomers as a test and means of comparison with the work of their predecessors. The Harvard Observatory aim is to furnish a measure of photographic brightness of a portion of the stars in this group, so that the results reached by other observers may be reduced to a uniform scale.
  3. Trails of equatorial stars. Here the object is to determine the photographic intensity of all bright stars within two degrees of the equator
  4. The enumeration of all the nebulae photographed in a given portion of the sky. This investigation shows the probability of a marked addition to the number of known nebulae. Photography has already greatly increased the limits of the nebulae in Orion. A few years ago, Prof. W. H. Pickering found this nebulous region to include the sword handle, and more lately it has been found to include a wide area extending north and south from this.

The scope of women’s work in astronomy was varied, but paid work was limited by the sexist conventions of the day. However, as seen with the release of the aforementioned books by Holt and Shetterley, the film adapatation of Shetterley’s book, as well as other stories that are emerging of women scientists of today and of the past, these “hidden figures” prove that our imaginings of the past will always be challenged and expanded! For more photos of Harvard’s women computers, visit Harvard’s collection of images devoted to the Observatory’s history.

  1. Helen Leah Reed. “Women’s Work at the Harvard Observatory,” The National Exposition Souvenir: What America Owes to Women, ed. by Lydia Hoyt Farmer, Buffalo: C. W. Moulton, 271.
  2. Gabriele Kass-Simon. Women of Science: Righting the Record, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 86
  3. David Alan Grier. When Computers Were Human, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 82
  4. Ibid, 83
  5. Ibid
  6. Bessie Zaban Jones and Lyle Gifford Boyd The Harvard College Observatory: The First Four Directorships, 1839-1919, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 390
  7. Ibid
  8. Grier, 84
  9. Reed, 272
  10. Ibid, 274
  11. Ibid, 275
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid, 276
  14. Ibid
  15. Ibid, 277