December 14, 1921

Henrietta Leavitt Buried in Cambridge

Greater Boston

On this day in 1921, Henrietta Leavitt, a scientist at the Harvard Observatory, was buried in Cambridge. Her premature death cut short a brilliant career as an astronomer. In the late nineteenth century, observatory director Edward Pickering wanted to map the brightness and color of the visible stars. He proposed a painstaking process of manually counting and computing the images revealed in thousands of photographs of starfields. Pickering knew he would need bright, meticulous, and dedicated people willing to work for low pay. So he hired women. These recent college graduates threw themselves into the work with enthusiasm. They discovered new stars and developed laws that provided a "cosmic yardstick" for measuring the universe, proving that women could be astronomers and scientists.

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