Podcast Episode: Cars, Stars, and Rock ’n’ Roll
Have you listened to the latest episode of our Sidedoor podcast? Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III discusses two objects that tell stories of people who overcame systems of oppression. The first object he discusses is a glass plate containing a photograph of stars. From 1875 on, women employed at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (formerly the Harvard Observatory) used these plates to map the galaxy. The second object is a Cadillac Eldorado owned by Chuck Berry that symbolizes his hard-won success.
At a time when society expected women to stay home and raise families, more than 80 women were hired as "computers." They charted and studied stars on the glass plates.
Science was closed to most women in the 1870s. When a Harvard Observatory astronomer fired a disorganized male assistant and hired his maid, she excelled at tracking the stars and more women followed in her footsteps. A must-hear story from @SidedoorPod: https://t.co/GPp91pM6uI pic.twitter.com/DCd9HDnhvL— Lonnie G. Bunch III (@SmithsonianSec) January 22, 2020
"They [the computers] took something that someone could see as custodial and made it more research-driven," Secretary Bunch says in the episode. "In some ways, this is one of those wonderful Hidden Figures stories, stories about how women who are left out of the narrative profoundly shaped what we know about the stars."
Globular cluster study on plate X5212, which was made on September 8, 1893. Annotations on the jacket from 1902 suggest a "Mrs. Winlock" used this plate. Could this be Anna or Louisa Winlock's work? #mysteries #archive #astronomy #photography #Astrophotography #WomeninScience pic.twitter.com/jkhkSQj0Rz— Harvard Glass Plates (@_GlassStars_) November 27, 2019
Learn more about the women in the episode, and see more photos in this Smithsonian Magazine article.
Women working as Harvard computers. Photo courtesy of Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.