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Helen Sawyer Hogg-Priestley

Dr. Helen Sawyer Hogg-Priestley was a pioneer known for her research into globular clusters and variable stars. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts on the 1st of August 1905, Hogg attended Lowell High School and graduated at age 15, but decided to stay an extra year before going on to Mount Holyoke College in 1922. Despite having almost completed her degree in chemistry, Hogg changed her major to astronomy after having attended an introductory astronomy class with Dr. Anne Sewell. Hogg cites two experiences as defining moments that pushed her to study astronomy. The first was when Dr. Sewell took her class to see a total eclipse of the sun and the second was a year later when an astronomer working at Harvard University named Annie Jump Cannon visited Mount Holyoke. In 1926, Hogg completed her undergraduate degree in astronomy.

Upon graduation from Mount Holyoke, Hogg, with the help of Dr. Cannon, received a fellowship for graduate studies at Harvard Observatory. While at Harvard, Hogg worked with Dr. Harlow Shapley, the director of the graduate program in astronomy. Under the guidance of Dr. Shapley, Hogg worked extensively measuring the size and brightness of globular clusters and ended up publishing several papers. She received her master’s degree in 1928 and her doctorate in 1931; however, since Harvard was still refusing to award graduate science degrees to women, both degrees were from Radcliffe College.

Thanks to her many advances in astronomy, Hogg received honorary doctoral degrees from six Canadian and American universities, including but not limited to Mount Holyoke College and the University of Toronto. She began teaching at the University of Toronto in 1936.

Through use of the major telescopes at Vitoria, British Columbia, Tucson, Arizona, and Richmond Hill, Ontario, Hogg became known as a leading expert in her specialized field and received many honours. These awards included Companion of the Order of Canada, the Annie J. Cannon Prize of the American Astronomical Society and the Rittenhouse Silver Medal. She received the Award of Merit from the City of Toronto and the Sandford Fleming Medal from the Royal Canadian Institute in 1985.

Dr. Helen Sawyer Hogg-Priestley is an astronomer known for her pioneering research and was the first female president of multiple astronomical organizations. Her legacy in scientific advocacy and journalism included astronomy columns in the Toronto Star and the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. She is also known for her popular book The Stars Belong to Everyone. She was the first Canadian to be awarded the Klumpke-Roberts Award in recognition of her contribution to the public’s understanding of astronomy. She is also the only Canadian woman to have a minor planet (#2917) named after her.


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