Timmy Telescope Solar Astronomy Outreach

Harvard Computers

Harvard Observatory director Edward Charles Pickering hired more than 80 women as technicians to perform scientific and mathematical calculations by hand. They became known as the "Harvard Computers."

This was more than 40 years before women gained the right to vote. They received global recognition for their contributions that changed the science of astronomy. Due to their accomplishments, they paved the way for other women to work in scientific and engineering careers.

A group of women computers, directed by Williamina Fleming, back center standing.
A group of women computers, directed by Williamina Fleming, back center standing.
[Credit: Harvard College Observatory, c1890]

WHAT DID THEY DO

[right] "What, at first glance, may look like scribble and dust marks, are the precise mathematical measurements and analysis by the women computers on glass plate photos of stars and planets." Credit: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Glass Plate Collection

Harvard University Plates Stacks Digitization Project

Harvard College Observatory’s Plate Collection (also known as the Plate Stacks) is the world’s largest archive of stellar glass plate negatives. Taken between the mid 1880s and 1989 (with a gap 1953-68) the collection grew to 500,000 and is currently being digitized.

WHO WERE THEY

FOR MORE INFORMATION

cover of Glass Universe by Dana SobelGlass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel.