Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary

By Benjamin F. Shearer; Barbara S. Shearer | Go to book overview

HENRIETTA HILL SWOPE (1902-1980) Astronomer
Birth October 26, 1902
1925 Bachelor's degree, Barnard College
1928 Master's degree, Radcliffe College
1928-42 Staff, Harvard College Observatory
1943-47 Mathematician, U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office
1947-52 Associate in Astronomy, Barnard College
1952-77 Staff, Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatory
1968 Annie J. Cannon Prize, American Astronomical Society
1975 Distinguished Alumna Award, Barnard College; D.Sc.,
University of Basel
1980 Medal of Distinction, Barnard College
Death November 24, 1980

Henrietta Swope won honors and awards for her precise measurements of variable stars. Perhaps more incredible, she discovered 2,000 stars herself.

Henrietta Hill Swope was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1902, one of five children of Gerard Swope and Mary Dayton (Hill) Swope. Gerard Swope was an electrical engineer and a former president of General Electric. After earning her bachelor's degree at Barnard in 1925 and a master's degree from Radcliffe in 1928, Henrietta spent the next 14 years at Harvard College Observatory. It has been noted that Henrietta "evidently . . . was not particularly inspired to continue in astronomy [after leaving Barnard] . . . for she entered the graduate school of Commerce and Administration at the University of Chicago." 1 She found, however, that this field was not to her liking, describing herself as a "wee mouse among many fierce cats." 2 Upon being encouraged by Margaret Harwood, then director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory, to "apply for a position at Harvard College Observatory . . . Swope became the most successful discoverer of variable stars since Henrietta Leavitt." 3

Swope worked for Harvard College Observatory from 1928 until 1942. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin comments in her autobiography that Swope arrived there two years after her and at that time the work on variable

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