Boston Globe: Cosmic images, captured in quilts at Harvard exhibit ‘Measure’

Anna Von Mertens stitches patterns of stars and galaxies into quilts, charting their movement with astronomical software. Invited to exhibit at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, she went to the Harvard College Observatory to study the “computers” — women who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scrutinized more than 500,000 glass-plate astronomical photographs.

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Harvard Gazette: Before Circuit Boards, Female "Computers" Set the Standard

At the turn of the 19th century, the idea of women working was a foreign one, but at the Harvard College Observatory (HCO), it was the norm. From 1877 to 1919, Edward Charles Pickering, director of the HCO, led a team of more than 80 women to study glass plate photographs of the night sky. Pickering deliberately hired women, as he believed they were more detail oriented — a crucial trait for this work — and more affordable than men. The team is credited with numerous astronomical achievements and became known as the “Harvard Computers.”

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