November 9, 2023
It all snowballed from a photo. On his first trip to the U.S. in 1921, Albert Einstein visited Yerkes Observatory, located in Wisconsin and run by the University of Chicago. Those present gathered for a photograph with the telescope.
Nearly a century later, members of a team poring over historical materials to preserve the history of the observatory stopped and looked at it in surprise.
“We said, ‘Wow—there are so many women in this photo,’” recalled Andrea Twiss-Brooks, director of humanities and area studies at the UChicago Library. “We recognized the men in the photo, but who were the women?”
Fortuitously, someone had written the women’s names on the photo. As Twiss-Brooks and colleagues investigated, poring over the records from the observatory, they found the women pictured were employees at Yerkes—and they weren’t the exception.
“I thought in 30 years there might be a handful, but we’ve located more than 100 so far,” she said.