The Contributions of Women to the United States
Naval Observatory: The Early Years.
Miss Eleanor Annie Lamson
Eleanor Annie Lamson was born in
Washington DC on April 19, 1875
to Franklin S. Lamson and Annie F. Lamson. She
remained a lifelong resident of Washington.
Miss Lamson studied at
University receiving her BS in 1897 and her
MS in 1899 upon the completion of her
masters thesis entitled: "Heliocentric and
Geocentric Positions of Mercury, Venus,
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune for
January 30th, May 13th, August 25th and
December 7th 1904."
Miss Lamson came to
the Naval Observatory in 1900 as a
Miscellaneous Computer and according to
Captain J. F. Hellweg, "Immediately she
showed such unusual interest and ability in
astronomical work that she forged ahead."
By 1903 she was a full time Computer, and
by 1907 she was an
Assistant in the computing division. In 1921
she became the first female supervisor at the
Naval Observatory with her promotion to the
Supervisor of The Computing Bureau.
her success however, Eleanor Lamson was a
victim of prejudice. She had ambitions of
being a "full-rate astronomer" yet she was
never allowed to observe. Understandably this
was a source of frustration for her. She
became an Associate Astronomer in 1925,
and the Observatory sent Miss Lamson to Martha's Vineyard to obtain a photograph of the outer
extensions of the corona during the January solar eclipse.
Miss Lamson supervised and participated in all aspects of the eclipse expedition from building
38-inch camera with a 6-inch Dallmeyer portrait lens to developing the images (each of
which was unfortunately "marred by a faint secondary image".) Her report of the event
published in Popular Astronomy describes all the details from site selection, construction of the
camera, testing, through the actual event and final processing done of the images. Her
enthusiasm for the event might best be seen in her description of totality: "Suddenly the thin
bright crescent of the sun seemed to break up into a string of brilliant dots, known as the Baily
Beads, and a moment later the corona flashed out in all its beauty."
Miss Lamson was elected to the American Astronomical Society in 1909. She traveled
extensively to attend meetings and can be seen in the meeting photographs at the 1911 meeting
in Washington, the 1915 meeting in Berkeley California, the 1917 meeting in Albany New York,
the 1921 meeting in Connecticut and the 1929 meeting in Ottawa.
On July 27, 1932, at the age of 57, Miss Lamson died in her home after an illness of a few
weeks At the time of her death, Miss Lamson was working on the reduction of the gravity work
done by Dr. Meinesz of the Netherlands. The Superintendent of the Naval Observatory in tribute
to her stated: "All of the publications of the Naval Observatory since 1900 bear the imprint of
her painstaking and thorough care and her devotion to duty." With the death of Miss
Lamson, the Computing Division was disbanded and each of her employees was promoted to
the professional grade. Miss Lamson is credited with publishing several papers in the
Astronomische Nachrichten, Popular Astronomy, and The Astronomical Journal, most of which
deal with orbits of comets, asteroids, and the planets or with corrections to the constant of
nutation. She was a member of the International Astronomical Union, the American
Astronomical Society, and a National Research Council Delegate. Miss Lamson was also active
in her church work as a member of the Calvary Baptist Church, and was a member of the
Daughters of the American Revolution and the University Club. She was buried in Glenwood
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