Henrietta Swan Leavitt

I was telling my chemist father about this album project and he immediately said "You should write a song about Henrietta Leavitt! She made the fundamental discovery that led to the Hubble expanding universe discovery, and she didn't get credit for it for years. The Nobel prize people went looking for her and learned she'd  died, so that was that, they didn't nominate her." A female astronomer, devoted to her work but uncredited, whose work "provided astronomers with the first "standard candle" with which to measure the distance to faraway galaxies."?  I was hooked.

Here are a few tidbits about her:

• She discovered astronomy as a senior at what became Radcliffe.

• She worked for years at the Harvard Observatory, initially unpaid and finally hired for .30/hour: the other women who worked there were paid .25/hour.

• She made her discoveries by studying photographs of 'variable stars" in order to measure and catalog their changing brightness.

• Plagued by poor health her entire life, one of her illnesses shortly after college left her deaf. She often had to take breaks from her work as an astronomer to heal, but she always returned to work.

• One of her colleagues, Solon Bailey, said of her "She was possessed of a nature so full of sunshine that, to her, all of life became beautiful and full of meaning."

• The asteroid 5383 Leavitt and the moon crater Leavitt are named after her to honor deaf men and women who have worked as astronomers.

April 2020----I just learned that she had a mentor at the Harvard Observatory, a former maid named Mina Fleming who also helped map the stars.






Miss Leavitt’s Stars, George Johnson, Atlas Books, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005


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