AAVSO: American Association of Variable Star Observers

Martha Betz Shapley: First Lady of Harvard College Observatory 1921-1952

Volume 15 number 2 (1986)

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Barbara L. Welther
Harvard-Smithsonian Center


During the fall of 1985, when family, friends, students and colleagues of Harlow Shapley all assembled to celebrate the centennial of his birth, they often commented on how much his wife, Martha Betz Shapley, supported his career in astronomy as well as her own. Unfortunately, Mrs. Shapley's contributions to science, to her family, and to the extended observatory family were frequently overshadowed by her husband's. Therefore, this paper will examine her mathematical work of calculating elements for eclipsing binary systems and her managerial work of caring for her own and for the observatory family. To date, sources for this paper include a published biographical sketch by Zdenek Kopal, an unpublished manuscript by Jacqueline Kloss, an informal discussion with Mrs. Fletcher Watson, an unpublished typescript by Prof. Charles Whitney of his recent interview with Dr. Luigi Jacchia, and the catalogue and papers that Mrs. Shapley published on eclipsing binary sytems.