Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11: Mary Watson Whitney

Mary Watson Whitney
September 11, 1847 – January 20, 1921

Mary Watson Whitney was an American astronomer and for 22 years the head of the Vassar Observatory.

Whitney was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1847. She went to school in Waltham and graduated from the public high school in 1863. Afterwards she entered Vassar College, where she met the astronomer Maria Mitchell.

She got her degree in 1868 and returned to Waltham to care for her widowed mother. At that time she worked as a teacher in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

Starting in 1869 she had some courses about quaternions (at Harvard) and celestial mechanics by Benjamin Peirce. She got her masters degree from Vassar in 1872, afterwards she went to Zürich for 3 years. Returning to the U.S. she became a teacher at her hometown high school until she became an assistant of Maria Mitchell in Vassar.

In 1888 she fellowed Mitchell as professor and as director of the observatory there until she retired in 1910 for health reasons. She died in Waltham in 1921.

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