The women of Harvard Observatory worked hard for their meager wages. And the director wanted data processed, not theoretical work. Yet some of them made significant discoveries. One of the least known, but considered by some professional astronomers to be the most able, was Antonia Maury.

Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York on March 21, 1866 into a highly intellectual family. Her maternal grandfather was John William Draper, physician, scientist and pioneer of photography. Henry Draper – doctor, professor and astrophotographer – was her uncle. Antonia's father was a well known naturalist.

Aged nine, with her father's encouragement, Antonia read Virgil in the original Latin. So it was no surprise that she graduated from Vassar College – where Maria Mitchell was one of her professors – with honors in physics, astronomy and philosophy.

She went to work at Harvard College Observatory, but she and the Director William Pickering didn't see eye to eye. Maury devised a star classification system that he said was too complicated. However Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung found it the only system that he could use for his study of stars. His work - and independently that of American astronomer Henry Norris Russell - led to what's now called the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram. It's the key to understanding stellar evolution.

Hertzsprung felt that denying Maury's classification was “nearly the same as if a zoologist, who had detected the deciding differences between a whale and a fish, would continue in classifying them together.”

Mona Evans
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