Snapshot Margaret Harwood Biography

It was 1907, and Margaret Harwood had just graduated from Radcliffe College with an A.B. degree in astronomy. She applied for a job at the Harvard College Observatory, an influential research institution known for its pioneering work in astronomical observations and classifications. The Observatory, established in 1839, helped develop modern astrophysics and was instrumental in producing a catalog that classified hundreds of thousands of stars according to their spectra.

Black and white portrait of Margaret Harwood. She is wearing a dark academic gown with a white collar and detailed embroidery. She has short wavy hair, styled upwards, and rimless glasses. She gazes directly at the camera with a serious expression.
Margaret Harwood

The Observatory at the time was also relatively unique in that it employed women, as opportunities for them in scientific fields were limited. These women, nicknamed the “Harvard Computers,” carried out extensive calculations and significantly contributed to astronomical classifications. Into this group, the Director hired Margaret as a “computer.” And so she began what would become an illustrious career in astronomy.

While teaching at local schools in the morning to supplement her Observatory salary, Margaret still quickly stood out amongst the talented group of fellow women. In 1912, Margaret became the first recipient of an astronomical fellowship awarded by the newly founded Maria Mitchell Observatory. Four years later, in 1916, after receiving her A.M. degree from the University of California – Berkeley, Margaret was appointed the Director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory.

Under her leadership, the Observatory thrived. She made significant contributions to the field during this time, with research focusing on variable stars, particularly in the Milky Way. Throughout her career, she would write numerous papers and articles. And beyond the research, under her leadership, the Observatory also became a training ground for young women astronomers, paving the way for future generations. Margaret led the Observatory until retiring in 1957.

After her retirement, Margaret continued to contribute to the field through her writings and mentorship. She passed away on March 6, 1979.


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Click here to read a snapshot biography of another astronomy pioneer, Williamina Fleming.