Timeline based on the ASTR 350 project “A History of Astronomy at Wellesley College” by Kathleen Sewall (19)'97.


Wellesley College founder Henry Durant asks the Physics Department to offer a course incorporating astronomy. “Applied Physics”, taught by Physics professor Sarah Whiting, results.

Sarah Whiting


Future famous astronomer Annie Jump Cannon graduates from Wellesley College with a degree in Physics.

Annie Jump Cannon


Mrs. John C. Whitin, Wellesley College trustee, decides to donate an observatory for the College. Besides providing the funds, Mrs. Whitin is also heavily involved in the design of the facility and the selection of equipment. Read the story of the founding of the Observatory, as told in Wellesley College 1875-1975: A Century of Women. (PDF file, 86 kb; requires Acrobat Reader.)

Sarah Whitin


The college purchases the 12-inch telescope from S. V. White, a Brooklyn doctor. The telescope had been built by Henry Fitz in 1854, and was reworked by Alvan Clark & Sons in 1867.

12-in telescope


The observatory is completed. Total cost: $30,000.



The Astronomy Department is created. Miss Sarah Whiting is the first Director.

Sarah Whiting


Mrs. Whitin funds an expansion of the Observatory, adding the smaller dome and 6-in Clark refractor, a transit dome, a library, and lab space.

Transit 6-in Clark refractor

Observatory House is also built to house the Director of the observatory and staff.  

expansion of the ObservatoryObservatory House


Annie Jump Cannon is given an honorary Master's degree.

Annie Jump Cannon


Lady Margaret Huggins bequeaths many small astronomical instruments, manuscripts and related items to the Department.

Lady Margaret Huggins


Sarah Whiting retires. John Duncan is hired as new Director.

John Duncan


Elizabeth Whiting gives $2000 to the Department. This money is used to erect a marble tablet (by the front door) honoring her sister, Sarah Whiting, and for the spectrohelioscope.

Plaque spectrohelioscope


Astronomy professor Helen Dodson and Barbara McCarthy, professor of Greek, teach a secret course in cryptography to (at least) ten students. The course was taught evenings at the Observatory, where late-night activity would not attract attention. Following graduation, most of these students went on to work for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), working on Japanese and German codes. (See Wellesley magazine, Winter 2000, for more details.)



Duncan retires. James Warwick serves as interim Director.



Sarah J. Hill is hired as the new Director.

Sarah J. Hill


Mrs. Margaret Sawyer donates $80,000, used to purchase a 24-in Boller and Chivens telescope and dome.

24-in Boller and Chivens telescope Mrs. Margaret Sawyer


Scott Birney becomes Director, succeeding Sarah Hill who retires from Wellesley College three years later.

Scott Birney


Asteroid (3065) 1984 CV, discovered 1984 Feb 08 by E. Bowell at Anderson Mesa, is named (3065) Sarahill, with the citation to the right:

Name proposed by the discoverer following a suggestion by Faith Vilas, who provided the citation.

Named in honor of Sarah J. Hill, professor of astronomy at Wellesley College (1952-1974) and chairman of its astronomy department (1952-1971). Her enthusiasm for teaching and for observational astronomy influenced the graduates to earn doctorates and become professional astronomers. Many others among her students earned advanced degrees in astronomy or related fields.


Richard French becomes Director.



Wellesley College 1984 Astronomy and Physics alumna Pam Melroy piloted space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station on 2000 Oct 11. 

Read a transcript of a Melroy interview.