TWO MINUTES WITH
What was your inspiration in writing the book?
I heard the name Henrietta Swan Leavitt for the first time about 20 years ago, while interviewing astronomer Wendy Freedman. When I looked into Leavitt’s background, I discovered she worked within a large group of women at Harvard College Observatory. The more I learned, the more intriguing the story sounded.
Was this a difficult book to research?
What made it quite difficult was the number of characters in the story and the length of time that elapsed from the hiring of Harvard’s early female computers to the granting of tenure to the university’s first female professor of astronomy. Diaries and letters helped me portray the individual players and put their work in the context of their lives.
What are some of your favourite stories from the book?
I admire Williamina Fleming’s rise from maid in the observatory director’s residence to Curator of Astronomical Photographs, the first Harvard University title granted to a woman. I was also moved by Annie Jump Cannon’s ability to befriend other astronomers all over the world, and even carry on correspondence with their children.
How can we encourage young women to choose a career in science?
I’m sure there are many ways, but the only one I know is to tell true stories so young women have real examples to follow.
DAVA SOBEL is an author and former science reporter for the New York Times