Helen Sawyer Hogg

The Life of Helen Sawyer Hogg

By: Julia Jamison

It’s simply amazing how the seemingly smallest things can make such a huge impact on our lives. A female student attending Mount Holyoke College in 1925 was prepared to go through her schooling to become a chemist. After viewing a total eclipse of the sun with her astronomy class however, her life was forever changed. This student’s name was Helen Sawyer. If it hadn’t been for that eclipse, Canada’s best known astronomer would not be the same person. Once she had graduated from Mount Holyoke, Helen went on to work at the Harvard Observatory while attending Radcliffe College where she received her Masters and Ph.D. because Harvard didn’t give graduate degrees to women in science!

Helen Sawyer Hogg was not only an astronomer but also a columnist. She began her career by taking pictures of globular clusters- hundreds of thousands of stars- and became a full professor at The University of Toronto in 1957. She took over 2,000 pictures and published more than 200 papers. She wrote a weekly column for 30 years, from 1951-1958, called With the Stars for the Toronto Star. Hogg even presented her own astronomy series on TV Ontario. A popular book on astronomy called The Stars Belong to Everyone was written by Helen and published in 1976.  The contributions she made to science were incredible significant and she encouraged women to pursue careers in science. Just days before she passed away, Hogg helped film a video encouraging women to go into science.

The first week of classes when everyone was signing up for a scientist, I had no idea which one to choose. After eliminating the scientists that others had already chosen, I looked through the professions and fields of work that each scientist was involved with and since I don’t know a lot about astronomy I decided it would be interesting to pick Helen Hogg. As it turns out I was right! Helen was born on August 1, 1905 in Lowell, Massachusetts. She lived “a life and a half,” made major accomplishments in science and then she died on January 28, 1993. Our world today would not be the same without her!

Hogg was the first woman to become president of the Royal Canadian Institute (RCI) which is dedicated to the advancement of science. She was also the first woman to be president of the physical sciences of the Royal Society of Canada.  In 1989, the observatory at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa was dedicated in her name as well as The University of Toronto’s southern observatory in Chile. Helen had an asteroid named after her, the asteroid orbits between Jupiter and Mars, asteroid number 2917, discovered in 1980 is named Sawyer Hogg.  Although she received many significant awards and honors, one of the most prestigious awards that she received during her lifetime would have to be the honor she received in 1967.  In 1967, Hogg was made a Companion of the Order of Canada which is one of the highest honors in the nation, it recognizes significant achievements and remarkable service in Canadian Science.

 Helen Sawyer Hogg should most definitely be considered a role model for aspiring future scientists. She was an important role model for women, especially in the Physical Sciences, throughout her life she encouraged women to pursue careers in science. She was incredibly dedicated to her work and was so concerned about positively influencing young women that just days before she passed away, Hogg participated in a video done by the University of Toronto that encouraged younger women to go into science. Her work was tedious and tiring, and took an extreme amount of concentration. She was so determined and focused on her work, her drive and passion is very admirable and should inspire others to follow their passions and persevere to make a change.

 

Male Contemporary: Jesse Leonard Greenstein

                                            

I chose to select Jesse Greenstein to compare to Helen Sawyer Hogg because the two are similar in multiple ways within their education and fields of study.  Both Jesse Leonard Greenstein and Helen Sawyer Hogg were astronomers. Greenstein was born on October 15, 1909 and died on October 21, 2002; he lived to be 93 years old.  He grew up in a Jewish family living in Brooklyn, New York. Jesse attended a private high school called the Horace Mann School for Boys a “middle class wealthy college prep boarding school” beginning when he was 11 years old and progressed so fast that he start began college at Harvard University when he was only 15 and received his Bachelors Degree in 1929! He continued his education at Harvard and received his Masters in Arts 1930 only a year later. He was contacted by and offered an opportunity to study at Oxford but was unable to accept it because of an illness.  Jesse met Naomi Kitay in 1926 (she went to the Horace Mann School for Girls and then Mt. Holyoke College and graduated in 1933) and then married her in 1934. They had two sons together named George and Peter and remained married for life until Naomi died just months before Jesse.

Both Helen Sawyer Hogg and Jesse Leonard Greenstein attended higher education and received master’s and doctorate degree’s in astronomy… Helen Sawyer Hogg attended Mount Holyoke College and Radcliffe University because she was unable to attend Harvard University since she was a female because they did not give graduate degrees to women at the time. Hogg didn’t receive as much schooling in her academic background as Greenstein did and he did so in a very short period of time.  Greenstein earned more awards than Hogg however he didn’t necessarily earn more prestigious awards than her. Interestingly enough, both Hogg and Greenstein has asteroids named after them, this fact proves that they both made significant contributions to the field of astronomy.  One was a Canadian astronomer (Hogg) and one was an American astronomers, these scientists were two different people from two different places and to say that Greenstein received more awards than Hogg would be true but it would not be true to say that her awards and honors were any less significant than his.  Hogg also had two observatories and a telescope named after her yet Greenstein did not.  I was unable to come up with a lot of information on how each scientist’s work effected their family however we know that both had families and children but it is likely that Hogg’s family and work suffered in competing more than Greenstein’s may have because Hogg was a female, the mother of the household and it was her assumed responsibility to take care of her family.

Both Helen Sawyer Hogg and Jesse Greenstein had bachelors, masters and Ph.D. degrees from colleges and they were both well off.  Helen Sawyer Hogg had to work harder to accomplish as much as she did and she had to have had good connections to important scientists.  It is clear that gender was a huge factor during this time period and affected the everyday lives of women and whether they had work or were paid as much as their male counterparts, if they were paid at all. The number of contributions Helen Sawyer was able to accomplish highlights just how intelligent and hardworking that she was. Both Helen and Jesse made significant contributions to our knowledge of our world today within the field of astronomy. The main difference between the two of them is gender. Men had the way paved for them, it wasn’t atypical to see men in various fields, dominating the workforce yet it was however uncommon to see women in fields dominated by men. Helen Hogg fought to gain a place in the world where men were dominating the work. Helen worked harder than Jesse to accomplish all that she did because she overcame the gender obstacle and other difficulties that came with that as a result, she fought to earn her degrees and for recognition for her own significant works.  I believe that Helen Sawyer Hogg wasn’t strongly hindered by her gender, she was affected by being a woman but she overcame those obstacles and therefore proved just how strong and intelligent she was.

                            The American Association of University Women 

The AAUW was formed on November 28, 1881. It has been around for 130 years this month and so it has been declared that November is “National AAUW Month.” This will be the “first-ever nationwide anniversary celebration!” American Association of University Women (AAUW) is a nationwide network of more than 100,000 members and donors, 1,000 branches and 500 college/university institution partners. Many different companies and colleges in addition to a range of different individuals are members of this important organization.

AAUW’s Mission is to “advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.”  The AAUW provides leadership programs for girls and women to learn life skills and assume leadership roles themselves.

Helen Sawyer Hogg would most likely be willing to join, if not she would definitely support this group because it encourages young women to get involved in the sciences. Hogg was an important role model for women, especially in the Physical Sciences; throughout her life she encouraged women to pursue careers in science. She was incredibly dedicated to her work and was so concerned about positively influencing young women that just days before she passed away, Hogg participated in a video done by the University of Toronto that encouraged younger women to go into science.  Helen Sawyer Hogg was a strong supporter of and an advocate for women and the AAUW aligns perfectly with those actions and desires.

My scientist, Helen Sawyer Hogg might encourage more of a focus on astronomy within this group simply because she was an astronomer however that is not what this group, the AAUW, focuses on.  I do believe that the mission statement to “advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research” is something that Hogg would agree with and approve of. The AAUW advances educational and professional opportunities for women in the United States and around the world. Each year AAUW provides millions of dollars in grants, awards and fellowships for “outstanding women around the globe and for community action projects.” The AAUW also funds “pioneering research on women, girls, and education.” This organization very much supports the views of my scientist.

Purpose:  This Blog was written in order to fill the requirements for the Freshman Seminar Course, Beauty and Brains- Women in the Sciences at UMW. The purpose of this blog is to inform and educate readers about the significant findings of my research on the life of scientist Helen Sawyer Hogg and her contemporary, Jesse Leonard Greenstein.

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