Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born on July 4, 1868.  She was born in Lancaster Massachusetts. She went to two colleges.  The first was called Oberlin.  Then she changed schools.  The second school was called Radcliffe College.  Right before she graduated from Radcliffe she took a class in astronomy.  She liked it.

Picture Courtesy of Harvard University

Picture Courtesy of the American Association of Variable Star Observers

 Right after she graduated Ms. Leavitt got really sick.  She was sick for a long time.  While she was sick she became deaf.
When she got better she decided to learn more about astronomy.  She volunteered at the Harvard College Observatory.  Years later the director decided Ms. Leavitt should work there all the time.  She was in charge of the photograph department.  She used pictures to study stars.  She was very good at her job.

Harvard College Observatory

Picture Courtesy of Harvard University


Picture Courtesy of NASA

A Mangellanic Cloud

Copyright Robert Gendler and Josch Hambsch 2005

He boss knew she could be trusted so he chose her to help him with a big project.  He wanted her to measure stars.  While she was measuring she discovered 2,400 stars.  1,777 stars were in the Magellanic Clouds in Peru.  She saw four new stars for the first time.  She also saw a few asteroids and other space objects for the first time. She wrote about her discoveries in the Annals and Circular of the Harvard College Observatory.
Her biggest accomplishment was the discovery of the period-luminosity law.    Using this law she could figure out how far a star was from earth by how bright the star was.

Picture Courtesy of the New Jersey Institute of Technology

Picture Courtesy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ms. Leavitt did not receive much credit for her work until after she died.  A teacher from Swedin wanted to nominate Ms. Leavitt for the Nobel Prize for her discovery of the period-luminosity law.  He had not heard yet that she had died.
   Ms. Leavitt died from cancer on December 12, 1921.   

Web Links


Lang, H. G., & Meath-Lang, B. (1995). Henrietta Swan Leavitt.  In A Biographical Dictionary: Deaf Persons in the Arts and
(pp.219-221). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.