Helen Sawyer Hogg

Bringing the Stars To Us

Through her books and articles, Hogg shared her passion for astronomy with the public. She increased our understanding of the development of our galaxy, and encouraged women to pursue careers in science

Helen Sawyer was born in 1905 in Lowell, Massachusetts, where she attended primary and secondary school before enrolling in Mount Holyoke College, where she hoped to one day pursue a career in chemistry. However, in 1925, her astronomy professor took the class on a field trip to witness a total solar eclipse, which inspired her to pursue astronomy instead. She studied astronomy at Radcliffe College, a sister school to Harvard University, where she earned her MA and PhD in astronomy. While there, she met a Canadian astronomer, Frank Hogg, whom she married in 1930, and they moved to Victoria, British Columbia after graduation.
Her husband was hired by the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, but at the time, the Observatory refused to hire a husband and wife together. Helen received permission to use the Observatory’s telescopes to carry out unpaid research on globular star clusters, one of the topics she explored in her thesis. Although female staff were not permitted to work alone at night, Helen’s position as a volunteer allowed her to circumvent this restriction.
Helen continued to work as a volunteer researcher when her husband accepted a job at the University of Toronto in 1935 until she was offered a a job as a research assistant in 1936. The departure of men to serve in WWII created opportunities for women, and Helen became a lecturer, and finally a professor. She shared her love of astronomy beyond academia by giving public lectures and writing books on astronomy. Her popularity as an astronomer led her to many leadership positions, including becoming the first female president of the Royal Canadian Institute in 1964. She continued to publish until her death in 1993, and was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.

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