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Author Dava Sobel, Presentation & Book Signing, The Glass Universe

  • Lewes Public Library 110 Adams Ave Lewes, DE 19958 USA (map)

The History Book Festival in partnership with Lewes Public Library present Dava Sobel author of "The Glass Universe: How the ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars".

In the 1870s, before women had the right to vote or a firm standing in the workplace, a lucky few found employment at the Harvard College Observatory. The first female assistants were born to the work—as the wives, daughters, and sisters of the resident astronomers.

Over time other ladies joined the group, thanks to the director’s farsighted hiring practices and the introduction of photography to astronomy. Instead of observing through the telescope by night, the women could analyze the stars in daylight on glass photographic plates. Harvard's female workforce grew accordingly, and its individual members won national and international acclaim for their discoveries.

The most famous among them—Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Leavitt, and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin—are the heroines of this story. The work was not only performed by women, but also funded by female philanthropists such as Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce. The half-million glass plates captured through a century’s worth of observing still occupy their own building at what is today the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 

The new book tells the story of the women who worked at the Harvard College Observatory from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s.

Observatory director Edward Pickering hired them because he believed women were careful workers—and would accept lower pay than men. There was a broad field for “woman’s work” in that exciting period when photography upended astronomy.

In the course of their labors, the women of “Pickering’s harem” helped discover the substance of the stars and the distances to them.

“Like the women of the Harvard Observatory, Dava Sobel reveals worlds to us. The Glass Universe is sensitive, exacting, and lit with the wonder of discovery.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction.

Browseabout Books will offer “The Glass Universe” for sale before and after the even. The author will sign copies of the book after the presentation.