Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary

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

SARAH FRANCES WHITING
(1847-1927) Astronomer, Physicist
Birth 1847
1865 B.A., Ingham University, Le Roy, NY
1865-76 Teacher of classics and mathematics, Brooklyn Heights
Seminary
1876-1912 Professor of Physics, Wellesley College
1900-16 Director of Whitin Observatory, Wellesley College
1905 Honorary degree, Tufts College
Death 1927

Sarah Whiting was first and foremost a teacher, very interested and successful in promoting the education of women. Her wide-ranging interests, from electric lights to X-rays, the weather, and astronomy, led her to the singular distinction of having made the first X-ray pictures in America.

Sarah Frances Whiting was born in Wyoming, New York, the daughter of Elizabeth Comstock and Joel Whiting. Her mother's family had settled in Connecticut and Long Island in the 1600s, and the Whitings came from Vermont. Joel Whiting was a graduate of Hamilton College and served as teacher and principal in a number of academies in New York State. Sarah became interested in physics while helping her father prepare demonstrations for his classes. He taught Latin, Greek, mathematics, and physics and tutored his daughter himself.

Sarah was well advanced in these subjects when she entered Ingham University in Le Roy, New York. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1865 and continued on at Ingham, teaching classics and mathematics. Later, she moved to Brooklyn Heights Seminary for girls, where she taught until 1876.

While in Brooklyn, Sarah attended scientific lectures and visited laboratories and exhibitions of new equipment. "She became known as an enthusiastic and effective teacher who showed great ingenuity in improvising apparatus for her lectures and shared with her students her excitement over new discoveries."1 In 1875 Henry Fowle Durant, founder of Wellesley College, sought out Sarah to teach physics at his new school

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