Shapley to Harvard

The immediate outcome of the debate for Shapley was that he almost lost the Harvard job to his former teacher Russell.

Russell himself was not eager to take on the administrative responsibilities that came with the directorship of Harvard College Observatory. His position at Princeton suited him very well, as he could leave the running of its small observatory to Dugan, and his teaching duties left him time to pursue his research. He warned Shapley that the Harvard job might cost him the freedom to do astronomy.

However, in discussions with Harvard faculty members and patrons of the observatory after the debate, Russell had articulated Shapley's arguments on the scale of the universe so well that in July 1920, Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell, at the urging of his advisors, offered Russell the job. And for a while, Russell considered taking it. He envisioned himself as director with Shapley as second in command. Only when Russell made up his mind not to accept the job, and lobbied for Shapley, did Lowell seriously consider Shapley for the job.

Shapley finally got an offer from Harvard in January 1921. The offer came in the form of a temporary appointment, which he could take while on a year's leave from Mount Wilson Observatory. In the end, Shapley garnered the approval of those in charge and won the full position in October 1921, before his trial period ended.

In April 1921, Shapley moved his family, which then included sons Willis and Alan as well as daughter Mildred, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and settled into the observatory director's residence. This large, rambling house stood behind the domed building that housed Harvard's 15-inch aperture ''Great Refractor,'' the twin of Pulkovo Observatory's ''Great Refractor.'' The director's residence also stood adjacent to a building known simply as ''the brick building,'' which housed Harvard's massive collection of photographic plates.

The observatory at that time included a number of small telescopes on the main campus, a small observatory in Jamaica run by Edward Pickering's brother William, and the station in Arequipa, Peru, that Solon Bailey had directed in the 1890s.

Bailey, though he still maintained an office under the dome of the 15-inch telescope, departed for Peru after Shapley's arrival, so as to leave the new director a free hand. Annie Jump Cannon, whom Shapley had met on his 1914 visit to Harvard, was still classifying spectra, as she continued to do until her retirement in 1940. She received an honorary doctorate from Groningen University, at Kapteyn's behest, the year Shapley took over at Harvard. Henrietta Leavitt, the discoverer of the period-luminosity relationship in Cepheid variables, was still there, but died in December 1921. Antonia Maury, who had developed the ''c'' classification for giant stars, was a frequent visitor; she ran the Henry Draper Memorial Museum in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, but returned to Harvard occasionally in connection with her independent research on stellar spectra. About a dozen other women rounded out the complement of female staff members who analyzed the photographic data and maintained the plate collection.

Shapley's administrative assistant also served as his research assistant and co-author. Adelaide Ames graduated from Vassar College north of New York City, which was then a women's college with a tradition of observational astronomy, and in 1922 enrolled in a graduate astronomy program at Radcliffe College, Harvard's sister institution. She finished her master's degree in 1924, at the age of 24. Despite her youth she proved to be a very capable assistant, organizing meetings on the one hand and examining photographic plates to identify galaxies on the other.

Shapley's desk at Harvard, which elicited numerous comments, also allowed him to work effectively. His friend Hudson Hoagland, a prominent physiologist, called it ''symbolic of his way of life,'' and described it this way: ''It was a desk in the form of a great wheel mounted on a vertical axle—a kind of rotating galaxy for ideas. Near the hub of the wheel were radially arranged compartments, cubby holes, and drawers. The disk of the wheel extending beyond the radius of these containers gave ample writing space for any position of the wheel. Thus sitting in one place, by turning the wheel, Shapley could bring before him any one of his divergent fields of interest. This marvelous desk thus allowed him, from his chair, to marshal the contents of half a dozen desks and files on as many topics by merely a twist of the wrist.''50

One of Shapley's first endeavors—and a highly successful one—was to establish a graduate program in astronomy at Harvard. Previously, the observatory had, curiously, no connection to the teaching of astronomy at the university; its mission was purely research. At first, members of the scientific staff cobbled together a lecture series based on their individual areas of expertise. Shapley then recruited Harry H Plaskett, a Canadian based at Oxford, to pull together a graduate program and head the new department.

Shapley unwittingly recruited one of the first graduate students while on a trip to London shortly after he settled in at Harvard. She was Cecilia Payne, later Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin, who was to make a remarkable contribution to the field of astrophysics in her doctoral dissertation and later became the first woman to chair Harvard's astronomy department.

Payne wrote in her autobiography, The Dyer's Hand, that she heard Shapley speak just at the time when she began to despair of ever being more than a teacher, even though, as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, she was a protegee of the great astrophysicist Eddington. Shapley impressed her with his familiarity with the stars and his masterful, direct style. After the lecture she got a friend to introduce her to Shapley, and she told him forthrightly that she would like to come and work under him. He reportedly answered, charmingly, that she could succeed Miss Cannon when she retired. Payne wrote, ''Knowing him as I did later, I doubt whether he took me seriously, or gave me a second thought. But I took him ser-iously.''51 Payne secured enough fellowships and grants to get her started with a year at Harvard, and in 1923, set sail for the United States.

Payne marveled at the freedom and intellectual stimulation she found at Harvard. She found the brick building ''a hive of industry.''52 Shapley gave her an office there—the one Leavitt had used. Although she never warmed to Shapley personally, she found him a wonderful scientific guide and an effective manager. She vividly described his style in her memoir:

''The young director was everywhere, running upstairs two steps at a time, pushing his soft sandy hair off his forehead, greeting everyone with the same casual cheerfulness. He knew exactly what each member of the staff was doing. He made a regular stop at each desk, and with a few well-chosen words (I use the overworked expression advisedly), made each of us feel important. If by chance one of us was not at work when he paid his daily visit, a little note would soon appear there, calling attention to the fact that we were expected to put in regular hours.''53

Payne and Shapley's assistant Adelaide Ames became fast friends. Payne said they were known as the ''Heavenly Twins.'' They shared a telling joke about Shapley and his ambitions for Harvard: they chuckled that he had ''found a Dear Little Observatory, and intended to leave it a Great Institution.''54

Shapley's hopes for a Great Institution got a boost from the private Rockefeller Foundation. In the late 1920s, the observatory was in the process of moving the 24-inch aperture telescope at the Arequipa station (known as the ''Bruce'' telescope after a donor) from Peru to a less isolated and more convenient southern hemisphere location near Bloemfontein, South Africa. Shapley convinced the Rockefeller Foundation to provide the funds for a 60-inch aperture telescope to join the Bruce telescope there.

The late 1920s and early 1930s saw tremendous growth in the graduate program. Payne obtained the first PhD in a dozen students followed her in quick succession. Helen Sawyer Hogg, a graduate student who began working for Shapley in 1926, remarked on the excitement he generated at the observatory: ''His exuberant personality, his flair for ideas and his equally great flair for words, his phenomenal memory, his enormous interest in his students and associates as individuals, his amazing capacity for work made a profound impression on all of us.''56

Shapley did not neglect building up the post-graduate scientific staff, either. In 1929, he hired Bart Bok, the Dutch astronomer mentioned earlier who insisted that his home town library acquire a copy of the Great Debate proceedings. Bok was educated at Leiden and Groningen by Kapteyn's students. The first of several staff members and students Shapley attracted who later became very influential, Bok introduced radio astronomy to Harvard, helped develop radio astronomy in Australia as director of the Mount Stromlo Observatory, then directed the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona during a major phase of expansion in facilities and staff.

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