Issue of April 10, 2009
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. National Women's History Month
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
[We realize that National Women's History Month is over, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to highlight some of the women mentioned last week by Ivan King -- Eds.]
Williamina Fleming (1857–1911) was born in Scotland and immigrated to Boston. After her marriage broke up, she worked as a maid for Edward Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory. Pickering was frustrated with the inefficiencies of his male assistants and notoriously claimed that, ‘his Scotch maid could do a better job.’ Fleming became a ‘computer.’ She worked on the original spectral classification scheme for stars and created classes arranged alphabetically from A to Q based on the intensity of hydrogen lines. She also discovered 10 of the 24 known novae, 94 of the 107 known Wolf-Rayet stars, 59 gaseous nebulae, long-period variable stars, and the first spectroscopic binary, Beta Lyrae.
For more, see, e.g., http://www.answers.com/topic/williamina-fleming
Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941) was the daughter of a Delaware state senator. She attended both Wellesley and Radcliffe and was appointed to the staff of the Harvard College Observatory. She revised Fleming’s classification system to produce the OBAFGKM sequence that we use today. Cannon developed a phenomenal skill: she could classify three stars a minute! She received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, the National League of Women Voters listed her as one of the 12 "greatest living American women," and she was the first woman elected as an officer of the AAS. She was nicknamed "Census Taker of the Sky" for classifying over 230,000 stellar bodies, more than any other person.
For more, see, e.g., http://www.answers.com/Annie%20Cannon
Antonia Maury (1866–1952) was the niece of Henry Draper. She graduated from Vassar in 1887 and became an assistant at Harvard College Observatory. Her work was on the classification of stellar spectra for the Draper catalog, but she proposed an additional modification. She argued that not only was the presence of a particular spectral line important, but so was its appearance: sharp, normal, or fuzzy. This was the first time spectroscopic criteria were used to determine the luminosities of stars. Ejnar Hertzsprung was quick to see the significance of her classification system and pointed out that some of her sharp spectra were indeed from giant stars.
For more, see, e.g., http://www.answers.com/topic/antonia-maury
Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868–1921) graduated from Radcliffe College in 1892 and became a research assistant at the Harvard College Observatory in 1895. She is most famous for her work on Cepheid variable stars. Leavitt realized that brighter Cepheids in the Magellanic Clouds had longer periods. Since all the Cepheids were at approximately the same distance, the period of the variable must be related to the star’s luminosity. The period-luminosity relation, or Leavitt Law, is now used to determine distances of galaxies millions of light-years away.
For more, see, e.g., http://www.answers.com/Henrietta%20LeavittBack to top.
2. Stand and Be Counted - Demographics
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
AAS member information such as birth date and gender are optional and used only for demographics, but these data are invaluable for studies on the state of the profession like those being done for Astro 2010.
Why should you include this optional information? For one thing, if the AAS has these data in its own records, then it does not have to commission expensive studies to gather this information. (This is what the AAS has done in the past to get data on gender.)
Stand and be counted!
It’s easy: just log in to the AAS members web site:
Click on ‘Member Profile’ on the horizontal blue bar that runs across the top. If gender and birth date are already listed properly, then congratulations, you count! If not, click the grey ‘edit’ button and add the information. Click ‘submit’ and you’re done. Please encourage your friends and colleagues to add their information too.
Let’s make sure that everyone counts.
For recent information on AAS demographics, please see the article in the Jan issue of Status by Kevin Marvel:Back to top.
3. The Effect of Demographics in Talk Dynamics
From: Hannah_at_Women in Astronomy Blog, April 3, 2009
I recently attended a talk on a subject within my area of expertise by someone who is not an expert in this field. He argued that the physics he was solving should still apply to the problem, but it quickly became abundantly clear that his understanding of the basic issues was insufficient. In any case, he became quite defensive, alternating between dismissing criticism by saying he wasn't an expert in the field and challenging the audience to produce better explanations. I began to feel like he was asking for advice but then refusing to take any of it.
It was only afterwards that it dawned on me that his three main critics were young (under 40) women (yes, one of them was me), while he was an older (50s? 60s?) man. It made me wonder if he responded to us that way because of our youth and gender. Unfortunately, I don't have a good baseline for judging whether there was gender bias or not, because we women pretty much dominated the discussion.
Then again, young women dominated the discussion! It seems to be a peculiarity of my subfield of astronomy that lots of young women are in it, especially in my research group. It's nice, but it makes me wonder if I'm shielded from a lot of gender bias because of it.Back to top.
4. How to Submit, Subscribe, or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
To submit to AASWOMEN: send email to aaswomen_at_aas.org. All material sent to that address will be posted unless you tell us otherwise (including your email address).
To subscribe or unsubscribe to AASWOMEN go to
and fill out the form.
If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.orgBack to top.
5. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN
Past issues of AASWOMEN are available at
Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.Back to top.