Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne, 1900-

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Celilia Helena Payne Gaposchkin (1900-1979) taught astronomy at Harvard. She earned her AB at Newnham College, Cambridge University in 1923 and a Ph.D. from Radcliffe College in 1925. She began working at the Harvard Observatory in 1923. She was the Phillips Astronomer at the Harvard Observatory in 1938, Professor of Astronomy, 1956-1966, Chair of the Astronomy Department, 1956-1960 (the first female department Chair at Harvard) and Phillips Professor of Astronomy, Emerita, from 1967; at the time of her retirement from Harvard, she joined the staff of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

From the description of Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, ca. 1950's-1970's, 2000. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973263

Died in 1979.

From the description of Oral history interview with Cecilia Helena Payne Gaposchkin, 1968 March 5. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78770457

  • 1900: Born May 10, Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England
  • 1919 - 1923 : Attended Newhham College at Cambridge University
  • 1923: Started first research at Harvard College Observatory Elected member of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 1924: Elected member of American Astronomical Society
  • 1925: Received PhD in astronomy from Radcliffe College
  • 1925 - 1927 : Research Fellow at the Harvard College Observatory
  • 1927 - 1938 : Technical Assistant to Harlow Shapley, Harvard College Observatory
  • 1933: Awarded Annie J. Cannon Prize recognizing the work of exceptional women astronomers (first winner)
  • 1934, March 6: Married Sergei Gaposchkin
  • 1936: Elected member of American Philosophical Society
  • 1938: Appointed Phillips Astronomer at Harvard University
  • 1938: Published Variable Stars
  • 1942: Received honorary degree from Wilson College, Doctor of Science
  • 1943: Elected member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 1945 - 1947 : President of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi chapter at Radcliffe College
  • 1948: Appointed Lecturer of Astronomy at Harvard University
  • 1950: Received honorary degree from Cambridge University, Doctor of Science
  • 1951: Received honorary degree from Smith College, Doctor of Science
  • 1952: Presented with Award of Merit from Radcliffe College
  • 1952: Published Stars in the Making
  • 1953: Received honorary degree from Western College for Women, Doctor of Science
  • 1954: Published Variable Stars and Galactic Structure
  • 1956 - 1966 : Professor of Astronomy
  • 1956 - 1960 : Chairperson of the Astronomy Department (first woman department chairperson at Harvard)
  • 1957: Awarded Annual Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women Published Galactic Novae
  • 1958: Appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy Received honorary degree from Colby College
  • 1961: Awarded Rittenhouse Medal from Franklin Institute Received honorary degree from Women's Medical College of Philadelphia
  • 1966: Retired from teaching
  • 1967: Appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus Received staff appointment at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Awarded Henry Norris Russell Prize from the American Astronomical Society
  • 1974: Planet 1974CA named in her honor
  • 1977: Awarded Henry Norris Russell Lectureship from the American Astronomical Society
  • 1979: Published Stars and clusters Died December 7

Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979), the first woman to attain a full professorship through a regular faculty promotion at Harvard University, was a pioneer in astrophysics and a leading authority on the brightness of variable stars. Her work was of fundamental importance in the study of stellar atmospheres and the research techniques that she perfected for analyzing starlight photographically were widely used and helped provide astronomers with a better understanding of the composition of stars.

Gaposchkin was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England on May 10, 1900 to Edward Payne and Emma Pertz. Growing up in England, Gaposchkin attended both religious and private grammar schools. In 1919 she entered Newnham College at Cambridge University with the intention of studying botany, physics, and chemistry. However, after listening to a lecture by astrophysicist Arthur Eddington about solar eclispes, she decided to change her academic direction and pursue a career in astronomy. At Newnham College, Gaposchkin attended as many astronomy classes as she could, set up a telescope, and presided over the college's Science Society.

Faced with limited academic opportunities in Great Britain, Gaposchkin decided to attend school in the United States and applied for a fellowship to do research at the Harvard College Observatory in 1923. She became one of the first students in Harvard's new graduate program in astronomy. Gaposchkin continued her studies of variable stars as the first PhD student in astronomy at Radcliffe College in 1924. Gaposchkin's research work at Radcliffe involved the analysis of Harvard University's immense collection of spectra photographs, a collection consisting of tens of thousands of images. Her findings, published in her work entitled Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars, determined stellar temperatures and established that stars were made up of hydrogen and helium with traces of other elements.

Upon graduation, Gaposchkin continued her work at Harvard as an astronomer pursuing her studies of the stars and the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy. In collaboration with her husband, Sergei, a Russian astronomer émigré working at the observatory, Gaposchkin undertook the systematic investigation of all known variable stars brighter than the tenth magnitude and published her results in 1938. Her work, Variable Stars, became the standard reference in the field. During the 1930's and 1940's, both Cecilia and Sergei, together with 29 assistants in the Observatory, made more than 1,250,000 observations of variable stars and laid the groundwork for all subsequent work on them and their use as indicators of the structure of the galaxy. Finally, in the 1960's, the Gaposchkins made more than two million photographic estimates of the stars in the two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way Galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds.

Gaposchkin entered Harvard's academic community when opportunities for women in the field of astronomy were limited. Despite her discoveries, she lacked the recognition afforded her male counterparts and received a smaller salary. In addition to her scientific work, she edited the volumes published by the Harvard Observatory and papers submitted by the staff to outside journals. She also taught a series of astronomy lecture courses. It was not until 1938 that she received a permanent appointment to the Harvard staff; in 1956 she finally received a full professorship. That same year she became chair of the Astronomy Department, the first woman to chair a department at Harvard University. She retired from active teaching in 1966.

Gaposchkin was recognized by her peers for her definitive studies of variable stars. She authored or coauthored nine books and 351 papers between 1925 and 1979. These studies of variable stars and novae were widely read by both students and astronomers and helped define the structure of the galaxy and the paths of stellar evolution.

Cecilia Gaposchkin married Sergei in 1934. They had three children: Edward Michael, Katharine Leonora (Haramundanis), and Peter John Arthur.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin died on December 7, 1979

References used for this biography are:

Ginerich, Owen.The Most Brilliant PhD Thesis Ever Written in Astronomy. In The Starry Universe: The Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Centenary.Schenectady, New York : L. Davis Press, 2001. Goldberg, Leo,Fred L. Whipple, Charles A. Whitney and Owen Gingeric.Memorial Minute: Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin. Harvard University Gazette (May 8, 1981) : 6. Kidwell, Peggy Aldrich. Three Women of American Astronomy.American Scientist 78 (May-June, 1990) : 244-251. Peggy Aldrich Kidwell.Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia; http://80-www.anb.org.ezp1.harvard.edu/articles/13/13-02107.html. American National Biography Online February 2000. Access Date: Tuesday February 3, 2004. Wayman, Patrick A.Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: astronomer extraordinaire.Astronomy and Geophysics 43, no. 1 (2002) : 1.27-1.29.

From the guide to the Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, ca.1950's-1970's, 2000, (Harvard University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Correspondence, 1860-1979. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Strömgren, Bengt, 1908-. Oral history interview with Bengt Georg Daniel Strömgren, 1976 May 6 and 13. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne, 1900-. Oral history interview with Cecilia Helena Payne Gaposchkin, 1968 March 5. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Humason, Milton L. (Milton La Salle), 1891-1972. Papers of Milton La Salle Humason, 1930-1952. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn King, Ivan R. Oral history interview with Ivan Robert King, 1977 July 18 and 20 July 1978. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Swope, Henrietta Hill, 1902-1982. Papers, 1917-1982 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, ca.1950's-1970's, 2000 Harvard University Archives.
referencedIn Van de Kamp, Peter, 1901-. Symposium on the galaxy [motion picture] / taken by Peter Van de Kamp, 1950. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Hoffleit, Dorrit. Oral history interview with Ellen Dorrit Hoffleit, 1979 August 4. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Van de Kamp, Peter, 1901-. Three conferences on astronomy and cosmology [motion picture] / photographed by Peter Van de Kamp. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Hertzsprung, Ejnar, 1873-1967. Correspondence, 1903-1966. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Spitzer, Lyman, 1914-1997. Oral History interview with Lyman Spitzer, 1991 November 27. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn McVittie, George C. (George Cunliffe). Selected papers [microform], 1926-1975. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Jordan, W. K. (Wilbur Kitchener), 1902-. Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1943-1960 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Wilkinson, James John Garth, 1812-1899. Diary : manuscript, 1869 Aug. 20-1869 Sept. 25. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Van de Kamp, Peter, 1901-. Dedication of McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas [motion picture] / taken by Peter Van de Kamp. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Struve, Otto, 1897-1963. Selected correspondence [microform], 1932-1945. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Swope, Henrietta Hill, 1902-1980. Oral history interview with Henrietta Hill Swope, 1977 August 3. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Kra, Pauline Skornecki, 1934-. Course notes, 1951-1953 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Hoffleit, Dorrit. Papers, 1906-2005 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne, 1900-. Papers of Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin, 1924, ca. 1950's-1970's, 2000. Harvard University, Archives
referencedIn Velikovsky, Immanuel, 1895-. Immanuel Velikovsky papers, 1920-1996 (bulk 1930-1979) Princeton University Library
referencedIn Greenstein, Jesse L. (Jesse Leonard), 1909-2002. Oral history interview with Jesse Leonard Greenstein, 1974 July 31. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Harwood, Margaret, 1885-1979. Papers, 1902-1974 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Comstock, Ada Louise. Records of the President of Radcliffe College, 1923-1943 (inclusive). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society. Weekly Broadcasts, 1941-1943. American Institute of Physics
referencedIn Phillips, Melba, 1907-. Oral history interview with Melba Newell Phillips, 1977 December 5. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Cronkhite, Bernice Brown, 1893-. Transcript of oral history, 1976. Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
referencedIn Greenstein, Jesse L. (Jesse Leonard), 1909-2002. Oral history interview with Jesse Leonard Greenstein, 1977 April 7 to 1978 May 19. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Papers, 1906-2005 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Bowen, Ira Sprague, 1898-1973. Oral history interview with Ira Sprague Bowen, 1968 August 9 and 26 August 1969. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Unsöld, Albrecht, 1905-. Oral history interview with Albrecht Unsöld, 1984 February 24. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Kidwell, Peggy A. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: The making of an astrophysicist, 1983. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Mayall, Margaret W. (Margaret Walton). Oral History interview with Margaret W. Mayall, 1986 August 11 and September 12. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Papers, 1902-1974 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Schwarzschild, Martin. Oral history interview with Martin Schwarzschild, 1977 March 10 to 19 July 1979. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Gaposchkin, Cecilia Helena Payne, 1900-. Correspondence to Van Wyck Brooks, 1959-1960. University of Pennsylvania Library
creatorOf Seares, Frederick Hanley, 1873-. Papers of Frederick Hanley Seares, 1909-1945 (bulk 1909-1940). Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Niels Bohr Library. History of physics manuscript biography collection D-H, 1901-1989, [ca. 1960]-1989 (bulk) Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Dieter-Conklin, Nannielou, 1926-. Oral history interview Nannielou Dieter-Conklin, 1977 July 19. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Douglas, Alice Vibert, 1894-. Letter to Ellen Dorrit Hoffleit concerning Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's undergraduate days at Cambridge University, 1980. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Greenstein, Jesse L. (Jesse Leonard), 1909-2002. Oral history interview with Jesse Leonard Greenstein, 1982 February 25, and March 16 and 23, 1982. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Swope, Henrietta Hill, 1902-. Papers of Henrietta Hill Swope, 1923-1979. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Papers, 1917-1982 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Bowen, Ira Sprague, 1898-1973. person
associatedWith Comstock, Ada Louise. person
associatedWith Cronkhite, Bernice Brown, 1893- person
associatedWith Dieter-Conklin, Nannielou, 1926- person
associatedWith Dorrit Hoffleit person
associatedWith Douglas, Alice Vibert, 1894- person
associatedWith Eddington, Arthur Stanley, Sir, 1882-1944. person
associatedWith Fowler, R. H. (Ralph Howard), 1889-1944. person
associatedWith Gingerich, Owen. person
associatedWith Greenstein, Jesse L. (Jesse Leonard), 1909-2002. person
associatedWith Harvard University corporateBody
associatedWith Harwood, Margaret, 1885-1979. person
associatedWith Henrietta Hill Swope, 1902-1982 person
associatedWith Hertzsprung, Ejnar, 1873-1967. person
correspondedWith Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966 person
associatedWith Hoffleit, Dorrit. person
associatedWith Humason, Milton L. (Milton La Salle), 1891-1972. person
associatedWith Jordan, W. K. (Wilbur Kitchener), 1902- person
associatedWith Kidwell, Peggy A. person
associatedWith King, Ivan R. person
associatedWith Kra, Pauline Skornecki, 1934- person
associatedWith Margaret Harwood, 1885-1979 person
associatedWith Mayall, Margaret W. (Margaret Walton) person
associatedWith McVittie, George C. (George Cunliffe) person
associatedWith Menzel, Donald H. (Donald Howard), 1901-1976. person
associatedWith Milne, Edward Arthur, 1896-1950. person
associatedWith Newnham College. corporateBody
associatedWith Niels Bohr Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Phillips, Melba, 1907- person
associatedWith Radcliffe College. corporateBody
associatedWith Russell, Henry Norris, 1877-1957. person
associatedWith Rutherford, Ernest, 1871-1937. person
associatedWith Schwarzschild, Martin. person
associatedWith Seares, Frederick Hanley, 1873- person
associatedWith Shapley, Harlow, 1885-1972. person
associatedWith Spitzer, Lyman, 1914-1997. person
associatedWith Strömgren, Bengt, 1908- person
associatedWith Struve, Otto, 1897-1963. person
associatedWith Swope, Henrietta Hill, 1902-. person
associatedWith Swope, Henrietta Hill, 1902-1980. person
associatedWith Swope, Henrietta Hill, 1902-1982. person
associatedWith University of Cambridge. corporateBody
associatedWith Unsöld, Albrecht, 1905- person
associatedWith Van de Kamp, Peter, 1901- person
correspondedWith Velikovsky, Immanuel, 1895- person
associatedWith Whitman, John R. person
associatedWith Wilkinson, James John Garth, 1812-1899. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Massachusetts--Cambridge
Subject
Women astronomers
Astronomers
Astronomy--Study and teaching
Astronomy
Women college teachers
Stars--Atmospheres
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1900-05-10

Death 1979-12-07

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w69c6zxc

Ark ID: w69c6zxc

SNAC ID: 17913867