The Lady of Luminosity: Henrietta Swan Leavitt Essay

The Lady of Luminosity: Henrietta Swan Leavitt Essay

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One of the most notable contributors to the field of astronomy, never actually worked a telescope. The unjust discrimination against women barred one of the most brilliant astronomers of the 20th century from ever actually viewing the stars she was studying. This did not pose a problem however, as Henrietta Swan Leavitt challenged these notions of female inferiority and ineptitude by entering the predominately male field of astrology and excelling. Henrietta Leavitt's prodigious discovery of the period-luminosity relationship amongst Cepheid variable stars would forever change the way we perceive the universe and known galaxies as well as lay the foundation for astronomers such as Harlow Shapley, Hertzsprung, and Edwin Hubble to expand our knowledge of the universe.

The androcentric view of history often fails to acknowledge the achievements of notable women who have made profound impacts that have revolutionized the way in which we see the world, as well as the universe. Although the modernized 21st century society is more apt to recognize the achievements of women with an equivocal perspective with men, it was not always so. During the early 20th century, women were consistently denied equality with men due to a perverse androcentric, male-dominated perspective that deemed women as subordinate and insignificant. This androcentric perspective limited the opportunities available to women at the time, leaving them only with domestic occupations that were deemed acceptable for women such as nurses, teachers or clerics. Very few women aspired for higher education, and even fewer achieved it. There were very few colleges that accepted women at the time, save for those erected for women alone. It is because of this, women rarely e...


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...woman by pursuing a career in the predominately male field of astrology and excelling. The “standard candle” of measurement, known as the period-luminosity relationship, developed through her study of Cepheid variable stars allowed us to view the universe like never before and forever changed the way we look at the cosmos.


Works Cited

Dyson, Marianne J. Space and Astronomy: Decade by Decade. New York: Facts on File, 2007. 14+. Print.

Impey, Chris. How It Began: A Time-traveler's Guide to the Universe. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 123+. Print.

Krauss, Lawrence Maxwell, and Richard Dawkins. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. New York, NY: Free, 2012. 7-8. Print.

Levy, David H. Cosmology 101. New York: I, 2003. 86-87. Print.

Waller, William H. The Milky Way: An Insider's Guide. Princeton, N.J: Princeton UP, 2013. 42+. Print.

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