Harvard College Observatory History in Images

This is a personal project collecting and documenting early images of Harvard College Observatory, focusing on the site at Observatory Hill (previously Summer House Hill). Buildings, instruments, people, and observations. The current focus is through about 1920, and filling out the history of the Cambridge location, and buildings. After this more emphasis will go to the people, followed by more details on instruments, and eventually, on the scientific results.

Because I'm also interested in the history of printing and image reproduction, some of the information here will emphasize that viewpoint. Basically this is my singular and ever-changing view of history, but of course this is true of every history ever written.

Disclaimer: any opinions expressed here are my own, and in no way represents the views of my employer, or anyone else. Also, I'm documenting things as I learn about them, so expect frequent errors. Corrections will occur without notice and without a changelog at this point. In many cases, what I'm writing here is basic note-taking for myself.

database of collected images

All images plus additional timeline notes (138)
All images (but no notes) (138)
buildings (86) people (36) instruments (22) observations (0) events (7)
  • interiors (0)
  • construction (34)
  • plans (12)
  • exteriors (42)
  • neighborhood (1)
  • computers (21)
  • directors (9)
  • donors (5)
  • men (17)
  • women (24)
  • radcliffe (12)
  • optical (17)
  • miscellaneous (0)
  • chrono (1)
  • transit (1)
  • magnetic (0)
  • photography (0)
  • sketches (0)
  • spectra (0)
  • transits (0)
  • meetings (7)
  • eclipses (0)
  • Astrophotographic Library (7)
  • Director's Residence (18)
  • New Plate Stacks (0)
  • Astrophotographic Library Addition (22)
  • Original Observatory building (15)
  • Sears Tower (17)
  • West Wing (1)
  • Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (0)
  • Edward C. Pickering (1)
  • Alvan Clark & Sons (2)
  • Mary Anna Palmer Draper (2)
  • Arthur Searle (0)
  • Harlow Shapley (1)
  • Antonia Maury (6)
  • Selina Bond (0)
  • Florence Cushman (7)
  • Jenka Mohr (0)
  • Williamina Fleming (11)
  • Mabel Gill (4)
  • L. Winlock (0)
  • Rhoda Saunders (0)
  • Ida Woods (3)
  • Edith Gill (3)
  • John Lovering (0)
  • Edward Skinner King (1)
  • Nettie A. Farrar (0)
  • Evelyn Leland (8)
  • Adelaide Ames (6)
  • William Cranch Bond (5)
  • Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1)
  • Margaret Harwood (4)
  • Arville Walker (5)
  • William Cranch Bond Jr. (0)
  • George Phillip Bond (1)
  • Annie Jump Cannon (5)
  • Leon Campbell (6)
  • Lilian Lydia Hodgdon (2)
  • Henrietta Swope (5)
  • Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (10)
  • Anna Winlock (0)
  • Joseph Winlock (1)
  • David Sears (1)
  • Helen Sawyer (5)
  • Thomas Hollis (1)
  • Draper 28-inch Reflector (12)
  • Great Refractor Chair (1)
  • Great Refractor (5)
  • Observatory Pinafore (7)
  • all images, newest additions to the collection first (138)
    untagged images (10)

    List of references

    Reader Comments (Experimental. Moderated, expect delays. Posts may be edited or ignored. I reserve the right to remove any or all comments, at any time.)


    At 2017/04/05 17:25


    I have been working on the history of women in astronomy since 1984. I came across your photographs on this site and wanted to add a couple updates to one of the photos ... The picture of the ladies on the ship. With respect to the one label you mention who is either Stevens or Cannon. It is definitely not Cannon as her ear is quite different from Annie's ear. (Ears are a unique identifier in photos.) She is most likely Stevens. Also the next person up and to the right who you list as unknown is most assuredly Mrs. Draper. I have several detailed photos of her and the ear, hair, eyes, and general face definitely match although a bit older than my photos. Hope this helps. - BDM

    At 2017/04/05 20:47


    But I actually don't agree on either point. In two of the other three photos I have (not up yet) of a young AJC, the ear shape looks quite similar to me.

    This one, she is third from the left.


    And this one:


    And as for Mrs. Draper, she already looked quite a bit older than this by 1891 (see other photos in the timeline), which is the earliest reasonable date for this photo.

    Identification is really tough. The next step I want to take in this project is to begin making a database of faces clipped from images and use that to build out more of the identifications. I have several conference photos with detailed identifications to work from. The downside there is that the quality of images I have in most cases is not so great, and that many of the early women who I'd like to see in photographs don't see to be in the conference photos at all, or are not identified as such.

    End Comments

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