External Navigation:

History

Timeline based on the ASTR 350 project “A History of Astronomy at Wellesley College” by Kathleen Sewall (19)'97. Additional historical photos can be found in the Image Gallery.

1879
Sarah Whiting Wellesley College founder Henry Durant asks the Physics Department to offer a course incorporating astronomy. “Applied Physics”, taught by Physics professor Sarah Whiting, results.
1884
Annie Cannon Future famous astronomer Annie Jump Cannon graduates from Wellesley College with a degree in Physics.

More information about Miss Cannon is available on the Web at “Person of the Week” for 2000 August 1, and in a section of the Astronomy Department's site devoted to Annie Jump Cannon.

1898
Mrs. John C. Whitin Mrs. John C. Whitin, Wellesley College trustee, decides to donate an observatory for the College. Besides providing the funds, Mrs. Whitin is also heavily involved in the design of the facility and the selection of equipment. Read the story of the founding of the Observatory, as told in Wellesley College 1875-1975: A Century of Women. (PDF file, 86 kb; requires Acrobat Reader.)
1899
12-in telescope The college purchases the 12-inch telescope from S. V. White, a Brooklyn doctor. The telescope had been built by Henry Fitz in 1854, and was reworked by Alvan Clark & Sons in 1867.
1900
observatory The observatory is completed. Total cost: $30,000.
1901
Sarah Whiting The Astronomy Department is created. Miss Sarah Whiting is the first Director.
1905
Mrs. Whitin funds an expansion of the Observatory, adding the smaller dome and 6-in Clark refractor, a transit dome, a library, and lab space. Observatory House is also built to house the Director of the observatory and staff.
1906
Annie Jump Cannon is given an honorary Master's degree.
1914
Lady Margaret Huggins Lady Margaret Huggins bequeaths many small astronomical instruments, manuscripts and related items to the Department.
1916
John Duncan Sarah Whiting retires. John Duncan is hired as new Director.
1930
Elizabeth Whiting gives $2000 to the Department. This money is used to erect a marble tablet (by the front door) honoring her sister, Sarah Whiting, and for the spectrohelioscope.
1942
Astronomy professor Helen Dodson and Barbara McCarthy, professor of Greek, teach a secret course in cryptography to (at least) ten students. The course was taught evenings at the Observatory, where late-night activity would not attract attention. Following graduation, most of these students went on to work for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), working on Japanese and German codes. (See Wellesley magazine, Winter 2000, for more details.)
1950
Duncan retires. James Warwick serves as interim Director.
1952
Sarah J. Hill Sarah J. Hill is hired as the new Director.
1965
Mrs. Margaret Sawyer donates $80,000, used to purchase a 24-in Boller and Chivens telescope and dome.
1971
Scott Birney Scott Birney becomes Director, succeeding Sarah Hill who retires from Wellesley College three years later.
1987
Asteroid (3065) 1984 CV, discovered 1984 Feb 08 by E. Bowell at Anderson Mesa, is named (3065) Sarahill, with the following citation:

Named in honor of Sarah J. Hill, professor of astronomy at Wellesley College (1952-1974) and chairman of its astronomy department (1952-1971). Her enthusiasm for teaching and for observational astronomy influenced ten graduates to earn doctorates and become professional astronomers. Many others among her students earned advanced degrees in astronomy or related fields.

Name proposed by the discoverer following a suggestion by Faith Vilas (ASTR '73), who provided the citation.

1991
Richard French becomes Director.
2000
Wellesley College 1984 Astronomy and Physics alumna Pam Melroy piloted space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station on 2000 Oct 11. Read a transcript of a Melroy interview.