Undergraduate years in Columbia

Shapley had intended to study journalism, but found that the school of journalism was not yet open. As he told the story, he decided to take classes in astronomy on a whim, simply because he searched for an alternative course of study by looking through the course catalog alphabetically, and couldn't pronounce ''archaeology.'' Once exposed to astronomy, he discovered an outlet for his talent in science, and had the good fortune to be mentored by excellent teachers.

His astronomy teacher, Frederick Seares, was to become a lifelong colleague. Seares had toured the great observatories of Europe—he had studied in Paris and Berlin. When Shapley arrived Seares was doing a remarkable job of carrying out a research program at Laws Observatory on campus, which was equipped with an old 7^ inch refractor and a micrometer. Seares managed to make a significant contribution to the determination of comet positions and to the cataloging of the changes in light output of variable stars.

Shapley cut his observing teeth at the Laws Observatory as one of two assistants. They got some of their education by finding faults with the old instruments, Shapley noted. He also helped Seares analyze his lightcurves of variable stars. Seares was delighted to have the help of such a talented student, although even he was awed by Shapley's industry. He later wrote in a letter of recommendation that Shapley worked ''incessantly — much too continuously for his own good.''5

Shapley claimed to have learned very little science in the one-room schoolhouse or at the Carthage Collegiate Institute. As an undergraduate, he retained an interest in the humanities, even as he applied himself to courses in physics, mathematics, and astronomy. ''It may seem strange that, with no experience or particular interest in astronomy, I went on to make a career of it, at a time when prospects for a degree were not very promising,'' he wrote in his autobiography. ''The explanation is, I think, that when I got to the University I found—and I know it was a genuine finding—that all fields of learning are exciting. I came very close to accepting a classics scholarship that would have given me a chance to be a classicist. Perhaps I shouldn't have got excited about physics,'' he said, recalling his difficulties with the subject, ''but about astronomy I could and I did.''6

Shapley indulged his fascination for the classics by writing a paper on ''Astronomy in Horace,'' which was published in Popular Astronomy magazine in 1909.7 However, as he spent time doing astronomy he found he was less attracted to other fields and no longer interested in returning to journalism. He had been at the university two years when the editor of the Daily Sun offered him an interest in the paper and the job of managing editor. By this time, Shapley knew he would not go back. Astronomy had him.

During his third year, Shapley met his future wife, Martha Betz. She was a gifted mathematician and linguist who would receive a bachelor's degree in education in 1910, a bachelor of arts degree in 1911, and a master's degree in 1913, all from the University of Missouri.8 They met in a mathematics class, he related: ''She sat in the front row and knew all the answers.''9 Martha was brilliant intellectually and ''retiring'' in nature, according to friends. She did not develop an interest in astronomy until she met Shapley, but, she pointed out to friends, she had a grandfather from Hanover who had several times, as a youth, seen the aging Caroline Herschel being driven around the city in a coach.10

Shapley obtained his bachelor's degree in 1910. Seares had left the previous year to become a staff astronomer at Mount Wilson, but stayed in touch with his protege in Columbia, trying to get him a position where he would have access to better observing facilities. Shapley decided to stay another year in Missouri for a master's degree.

During his final year, another one of Shapley's influential teachers, the mathematician Oliver Kellogg, helped him secure a prestigious fellowship to Princeton. Kellogg had studied at Princeton himself, as an undergraduate. Kellogg urged the deans of the faculty and graduate school at Princeton to attract Shapley before other schools could seize on his great talent and industry. The deans took note, and arranged for Shapley to begin his doctoral studies in September, 1911.

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