Dibner Library Lecture featuring Dava Sobel - The Glass Universe: A Unique Scientific Library

Headshot of a woman, smiling, with short, wavy white hair. She wears a blue sweater and there are trees in the background.Please join the Smithsonian Libraries for our 24th Annual Dibner Library Lecture featuring Dava Sobel.

Thursday, December 14, 2017
5:00 pm
Lecture Hall at the S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr, SW
Washington, DC 20560

This event is free. RSVP is requested. Please RSVP here or contact us at silrsvp@si.edu or 202.633.2241.


For access services, please contact us at silrsvp@si.edu or 202.633.2241, preferably by November 30.

The Glass Universe: A Unique Scientific Library
Dava Sobel

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.