This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 10, 2017: In an Iridescent Time

May 10, 2017: birthday: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

It’s the birthday of British-American astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (books by this author), born in Wendover, England (1900). She was the first woman to earn her Ph.D. in astronomy at Harvard, where several years before, Annie Jump Cannon and her fellow female colleagues had catalogued over 200,000 stars. Payne-Gaposchkin’s advanced degree brought women into the academic mainstream for the first time in the field. Still, she faced unfair gender bias for the rest of her life. Though she spent her entire career teaching and conducting research at Harvard, she was for many years denied an official position and commensurate pay. Payne-Gaposchkin was a role model for Joan Feynman, whose mother discouraged her from entering science even as she encouraged her famous physicist brother, Richard, to pursue it. Encouraged by Payne-Gaposchkin’s example, Joan Feynman went on to become an astrophysicist herself, and eventually uncovered the origins of the Northern Lights.