Mary Watson Whitney

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Mary Watson Whitney
Mary Watson Whitney.jpg
Mary Watson Whitney
BornSeptember 11, 1847
DiedJanuary 21, 1921(1921-01-21) (aged 73)
Nationality American
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy
Institutions Vassar Observatory

Mary Watson Whitney (September 11, 1847 January 20, 1921) was an American astronomer and for 22 years the head of the Vassar Observatory where 102 scientific papers were published under her guidance.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe, which is 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Astronomer Scientist who studies celestial bodies

An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets, and galaxies – in either observational or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.


Early life and education

Whitney was born on September 11, 1847, in Waltham, Massachusetts. Her mother was Mary Watson Crehore and her father was Samuel Buttrick Whitney. [1] Her father was successful in real estate and wealthy enough to provide her with a good education for a woman at the time. She went to school in Waltham where she excelled in mathematics and graduated from the public high school in 1863. She was privately tutored for one year before she entered Vassar College in 1865, where she met the astronomer Maria Mitchell. During her time at Vassar College, her father died and her brother was lost at sea. She obtained her degree in 1868. [1]

Waltham, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Waltham is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, and was an early center for the labor movement as well as a major contributor to the American Industrial Revolution. The original home of the Boston Manufacturing Company, the city was a prototype for 19th century industrial city planning, spawning what became known as the Waltham-Lowell system of labor and production. The city is now a center for research and higher education, home to Brandeis University and Bentley University. The population was 60,636 at the census in 2010.

Massachusetts State in the northeastern United States

Massachusetts, officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island to the south, New Hampshire and Vermont to the north, and New York to the west. The state is named after the Massachusett tribe, which once inhabited the east side of the area, and is one of the original thirteen states. The capital of Massachusetts is Boston, which is also the most populous city in New England. Over 80% of the population of Massachusetts lives in the Greater Boston metropolitan area, a region influential upon American history, academia, and industry. Originally dependent on agriculture, fishing and trade, Massachusetts was transformed into a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, Massachusetts's economy shifted from manufacturing to services. Modern Massachusetts is a global leader in biotechnology, engineering, higher education, finance, and maritime trade.

Vassar College private, coeducational liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States

Vassar College is a private, coeducational, liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, closely following Elmira College. It became coeducational in 1969, and now has a gender ratio at the national average. The school is one of the historic Seven Sisters, the first elite women's colleges in the U.S., and has a historic relationship with Yale University, who suggested a merger before they both became coeducational institutions.

In the years 1869 to 1870 she took some courses about quaternions and celestial mechanics by Benjamin Peirce (at Harvard). At the time, women could not be admitted to Harvard so she attended as a guest. [1] She obtained her master's degree from Vassar in 1872, afterwards she went to Zürich for 3 years where she studied mathematics and celestial mechanics. [1]

Celestial mechanics branch of astronomy

Celestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of objects in outer space. Historically, celestial mechanics applies principles of physics to astronomical objects, such as stars and planets, to produce ephemeris data.

Benjamin Peirce American mathematician

Benjamin Peirce (;) FRSFor HFRSE April 4, 1809 – October 6, 1880) was an American mathematician who taught at Harvard University for approximately 50 years. He made contributions to celestial mechanics, statistics, number theory, algebra, and the philosophy of mathematics.

Zürich Place in Switzerland

Zürich or Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zürich. It is located in north-central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich. The municipality has approximately 409,000 inhabitants, the urban agglomeration 1.315 million and the Zürich metropolitan area 1.83 million. Zürich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zurich Airport and railway station are the largest and busiest in the country.

Professional career

Returning to the US she became a teacher at her hometown high school until she became an assistant of Maria Mitchell in Vassar. In 1888 upon the retirement of Mitchell she became a professor and the director of the observatory there until she retired in 1915 for health reasons. [1]

Observatory location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events

An observatory is a location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events. Astronomy, climatology/meteorology, geophysical, oceanography and volcanology are examples of disciplines for which observatories have been constructed. Historically, observatories were as simple as containing an astronomical sextant or Stonehenge.

During her career she concentrated on teaching and research related to double stars, variable stars, asteroids, comets, and measurements by photographic plates. Under her direction, 102 articles were published at the Vassar Observatory. In 1889 her mother and sister both became ill and Whitney moved them to the Observatory where she could care for them and continue her work part-time. When they died two years later, she resumed full-time work. [1] Whitney was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a charter member of the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society. [2]

In observational astronomy, a double star or visual double is a pair of stars that appear close to each other as viewed from Earth, especially with the aid of optical telescopes.

Variable star star whose brightness as seen from Earth fluctuates

A variable star is a star whose brightness as seen from Earth fluctuates.

Asteroid Minor planet that is not a comet

Asteroids are minor planets, especially of the inner Solar System. Larger asteroids have also been called planetoids. These terms have historically been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the Sun that did not resemble a planet-like disc and was not observed to have characteristics of an active comet such as a tail. As minor planets in the outer Solar System were discovered they were typically found to have volatile-rich surfaces similar to comets. As a result, they were often distinguished from objects found in the main asteroid belt. In this article, the term "asteroid" refers to the minor planets of the inner Solar System including those co-orbital with Jupiter.

Mary Whitney also believed that science provided strong career opportunities for women. She hoped women would soon become more active in practical chemistry, architecture, dentistry, and agriculture, which were more lucrative and, to Whitney, women were particularly well suited to. However, she also believed that scientific training would prepare them to be good mothers, falling into more traditional tropes of the early 20th century. [3]

Later life

Mary Whitney died in Waltham on January 20, 1921, of pneumonia. [2]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Mary Watson Whitney". Vassar Encyclopedia. Vassar College. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  2. 1 2 "Mary W. Whitney". Annual Report of the Maria Mitchell Association. 19: 10. 1921. Bibcode:1921MMAAR..19...10. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  3. Rossiter, Margaret W. (1980). ""Women's Work" in Science, 1880-1910". Isis. 71 (3): 381–398. JSTOR   230118.