Return to Index

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.

Disclaimer: all content here is solely my own views, 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.

Williamina Fleming

This page shows a list of all images tagged with "Williamina Fleming".


Earliest source: "[Observatory women computers], 1891." Harvard University Archives / HUV 1210 (9-3). Harvard Libraries, olvwork289691

A group photo of computers at Harvard together with Mary Anna Palmer Draper, aka Mrs. Henry Draper. She's seated in the middle. After her husband's death, she contributed a significant sum of money to continue her late husbands' dream of scientific astrophotograpy, leading to the Draper Catalog, an ambitious project of the Observatory. Many, though not all, computers were funded for this project.

Harvard dates this as 1891. It seems to be approximately the same time as other photos with similar groups of women, taken in the same room. I think there were two pairs of photos taken on different days.

The photo was taken in the long computing room (see 1876 floor plans) on the south side of the second floor (the top floor, excluding the dome) of the building. The photograph was taken facing east, and the doorway in the photo is the closet shown in the floor plan.

Left to right:

  • unknown (standing)
  • unknown (seated)
  • possibly Eve Leland
  • Mrs. Draper (seated)
  • Antonia Maury
  • Williamina Fleming
  • possibly Mabel C. Stevens (or some other Stevens)
  • probably Florence Cushman
  • unknown

    Note that Stevens is Mrs. Fleming's maiden name, and she did have other relatives in Boston, but so far I don't know if any of the other Stevens that worked at the Observatary are related.

    [Observatory women computers], 1891


    General: The women depicted in this photograph analyized stellar photographs and computed data at the Harvard College Observatory.

  • [link]1891

    Earliest source: "Observatory girls with Mrs. Draper, 1891
    Alternate Title: [Observatory computer room and staff], 1891." Harvard University Archives / HUV 1210 (9-5). Harvard Libraries, olvwork289692

    Another photograph taken in the same place and on the same day as the previous, with the same people.


    Computers in one of the computing rooms at the Observatory. Harvard's date of 1891 for this photo is probably pretty accurate. It has to be after Dec. 1889, based on the graph on the wall of β Aurigӕ, just behind Antonia Maury (who is credited for discovering that it is a binary star). And as it was published in an April 1892 New England Magazine, thta's the upper limit on the photo.

    This is the same location as the photos with Mrs. Draper and some of the computers, the larger computing room on the top floor of the west wing of the Observatory.

    From left to right:

  • possibly Mabel Stevens
  • unknown
  • Antonia Maury
  • possibly Eve Leland (seated)
  • Williamina Fleming
  • unknown
  • unknown
  • probably Florence Cushman

  • [link]1891

    Earliest source: "[Observatory computer room and staff], 1891." Harvard University Archives / HUV 1210 (9-4). Harvard Libraries, olvwork289689

    Nearly the identical photo as the previous, but with Pickering added standing on the left. Obviously taken the same day.

    Note that the women did not work this closely. As can be seen in the above photos with Mrs. Draper, the room is larger and they are crowded together for sake of the photograph. There were between three and five rooms total for the computing work, and by my best guess about 15 women worked there at that time, as well as at least five men. Still cramped, but not this cramped.

    The following year, a brick building was constructed to help out with the space issues.


    Earliest source: "Observatory [analysis of stellar spectra], 1891." Harvard University Archives / HUV 1210 (9-6). Harvard Libraries, olvwork289693

    Date is from Harvard

    I think this is Williamina Fleming, seated on the right. The woman on the left may be Mabel C. Stevens, and she's wearing the same dress as one of the women of women computers in the old building with Fleming. Fleming appears to be wearing the same dress also, but without the jacket.

    This photo was taken on the same floor as that other photo, but in a the other computer room at the oppisite side of the building.


    Earliest source: "[Observatory data analysis by women computers] ." Harvard University Archives / UAV 630.271 (E4116). Harvard Libraries, olvwork432388

    Women computers working (or posing as if they're working) in a room in the new brick building, built in 1892.

    I've dated this photo to March of 1898 based on a calendar visible in the image. The year is not actually legible, but it's a year in which the first was a Tuesday. It also appears (not very clearly) as if the calendar is marked with quarter moon phases, and based on this interpretation, it can only be 1898.

    Williamina Fleming is standing. Immediatly in front of her are Eve Leland (back row center) and Ida Woods to the right. The rest are unidentified, although the woman closest to the camera could be A. J. Cannon.

    Note: Harvard identifies this as a photo including Henrietta Leavitt. She does not appear in this photo.


    Earliest source: "[Women on-board ship, ca. 1900]." Harvard University Archives / UAV 630.271 (173). Harvard Libraries, olvwork431825

    A group of women, most or all computers from the Observatory, on board the C.S. Minia, a cable repair ship. On the early end for possible dates of this picture, Mabel Gill (holding Fleming's hand) was hired in 1892 (assuming she had been hired at this point). At the other end, Fleming passed away in 1911.

    The Minia became famous as one of two ships primarily responsible for picking up survivors (and bodies) after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Before that, the Minia was a well-known ship under Captain Trott, also well-known for his ability to find and repair broken transatlantic telegram cables, in the deepest seas and the worst weather. He was also known for his hospitality when in port, and this photo could simply have been an opportunity to visit the ship, although he is not one of the gentlemen in this picture.

    William Squares DeCarteret took over as captain in 1899 after Trott passed away, and James Adams became his chief officer. In her 1900 journal, Williamina Fleming specifically mentions a letter from "Captain Adams" about the Minia. James Adams did eventually become captain of the Minia but it seems to be at a later date. At any rate, Miss Fleming apparently had some direct connection with an officer on the ship.

    Another possible connection would be the Observatory's early interest in telegraphy; they might have had much more direct contact with the ship than your average telegraph customer. Transatlantic cables were used for clock synchronization and precise longitude determinations from the very beginning. In 1873, Joseph Lovering published On the Determination of Transatlantic Longitudes by Means of the Telegraphic Cables.

    Also, Captain Trott and at least one crewman were members of the Nova Scotia Institute of Science, which sent their proceedings to the Observatory, so it's possible there were other connections between this ship and the Observatory also.

    Left to right:

  • probably William Squares De Carteret *
  • unknown man
  • unknown woman
  • Mabel Gill
  • unknown woman
  • unknown man
  • Williamina Fleming
  • probably Florence Cushman
  • either Mabel Stevens or A J Cannon**
  • unknonwn woman
  • probably James Adams *
  • probably Eve Leland
  • possibly Ida Woods

    *I found photos of both captain De Carteret and Adams, and I think it's at least possible that these men are those men, but I may have them reversed as they look like brothers to me.

    **I think it looks more like Cannon, and I want it to be her because I actually have no other images (besides very large group shots at conferences) with Fleming and Cannon together. BUT, reasonable estimates of this photo's date would put Cannon in the 35 to 40 range. If this is her she certainly looks MUCH younger than the 1902 photo I have of her.

  • [link]1902+

    Earliest source: "[Williamina Fleming at Harvard College Observatory plate stacks, ca. 1900]." Harvard University Archives / UAV 630.271 (388). Harvard Libraries, olvwork432040

    Williamina Fleming at Harvard College Observatory plate stacks. These are the "new" plate stacks in the brick building addition, built in 1902.

    [link]Earliest source: "A group of women computers [photographic group portrait, ca. 1900]." Harvard University Archives / HUPSF Observatory (45). Harvard Libraries, olvwork360664

    A group of women computers [photographic group portrait, ca. 1900]

    ca. 1900

    [link]Earliest source: "[Williamina P. Fleming, photographic portrait, ca. 1890]
    Alternate Title: [Fleming, Williamina P., [photographic portrait, ca. 1900]." Harvard University Archives / HUP Fleming, Williamina (1). Harvard Libraries, olvwork289681

    [Williamina P. Fleming, photographic portrait, ca. 1890]
    Alternate Title: [Fleming, Williamina P., [photographic portrait, ca. 1900]

    ca. 1890

    Historical: Williamina Fleming worked at the Harvard College Observatory. She analyized stellar photographs and computed data.


    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.)

    No comments

    Add a comment

    Tom Fine's Home Send Me Email