Born on May 10, 1900, in Westchester England, Cecilia Helena Payne went on stargazing escapades as a child with her mother, Elena Pertz. Once, she saw a meteor stream across the sky and decided at age five to become an astronomer. At a young age, she already knew that being a female would be an obstacle, especially when her younger brother Humfry was born. She discovered that he “was the one who really mattered”. Women during her time were seldom able to advance past teaching jobs, and those who were able to advance into more prestigious jobs frequently went unrecognized for their efforts.
During her adolescence, she attended a school where pupils were instructed in French or German, algebra, geometry, and measurements. They were also…show more content… One of her friends, A.J Comrie, who had a Ph.D in astronomy suggested that she was better off being an astronomer in America. In London, she attended a lecture by the new director of the Harvard Observatory, Harlow Shapley. After his lecture, she asked if she could work with him, and he approved. Several months later, with her Cambridge degree in hand, she journeyed to America. In 1839, the Harvard observatory was established and created a reputation through the photography and meticulous cataloging of stars. The majority of the work had been done by a succession of underpaid and predominantly anonymous women known as “computers” or “Pickering’s Harem”. These included women such as Annie Jump Cannon, who did the crucial work in stellar classification, and Henrietta Swann Leavitt, who uncovered the correlation between the brightness of stars and their period of observation.
In her papers and her thesis, Cecilia wrote about how elements in stars remained relatively the same, with some variation in their spectra, meaning that the stars may be composed of hydrogen and helium, rather than elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, silicon and iron that are abundant on earth. A leading astronomer, Otto Struve, had later acknowledged Payne’s work to be the “undoubtedly the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy”. She also assisted in initiating the field of astrophysics by bringing…show more content… Although the occupation had little pay, the work was tedious, and she would have no freedom to choose her topic, she had accepted. Finding another discovery, she concluded that some light from stars were absorbed by interstellar matter. The theory had not been approved by Russell and Shapley, so she did not publish her discovery, only to later have it revealed by Shapley. Throughout that time, women were expected to observe, while men constructed