Venus on Mars

Wrexie and Vera

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on October 8, 2009
Wrexie Leonard at Lowell Observatory, circa 1896

Wrexie Leonard at Lowell Observatory, circa 1896

I remember early on during my research finding this picture in the online Lowell Observatory archives.

This photo, coupled with this quote I found on a “women in astronomy” web site, convinced me to find out more about this woman looking through a big telescope back in 1896.

“Women were not allowed to use the world’s largest telescopes until the 1960’s.”

Really?

I decided to track down the quote, quite a challenge, since its author Sally Stephens had abandoned astronomy in favor of dog advocacy.  Finally I found her at “SF DOG” and we had a brief phone conversation.  She said there was no specific source for this information, that it was just generally known to be true.

Meanwhile I wanted to use the quote in a factual article I was writing about Wrexie for the Lowell Observatory newsletter, so Lowell archivist Antionette Beiser went to work, coming up with an amazing email from Vera Rubin (of dark matter fame) in which Rubin described how she became the first woman to legally observe at Palomar in 1965 – on the application she had to fill out, there was a statement “Due to limited facilities, we cannot accept applications from women,” but someone had pencilled in the word “usually.”

Wrexie’s contributions to astronomy are extremely modest when compared to all Vera Rubin has achieved, but they are both women ahead of their respective times.

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