Manuscripts Miscellany: Alcott Astronomy I notebook

This  Manuscripts Miscellany post highlights a recent acquisition. Special Collections and University Archives has been collecting in the area of Women in Science and Engineering for nearly two decades. Recently, I have been growing this area of the collections by acquiring relevant historical manuscripts. So far, these have been notebooks from women learning or teaching in the sciences, and together, they shed light on women’s education in STEM fields in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The manuscript I am highlighting today is a handwritten notebook showing the work of Margaret T. Alcott for an Astronomy I class in 1914-1915 (collection # MS-0721).

Image shows cover of brown paper composition book with a pasted label with the handwritten words "Margaret T. Alcott Astronomy I."
Cover of Margaret T. Alcott Astronomy I notebook, a brown paperboard bound composition notebook.

The level of work suggests late high school or college-level work. Her work ranges from recording the variable brightness of stars over a number of months, to the description and use of scientific instruments, to observations and calculations of the movements of celestial bodies. Date stamps and occasional pen markings indicate that her work was read over by an instructor.

I find this a fascinating look into women’s education in the sciences slightly more than one hundred ago.

Let’s take a peek into some of the pages of this notebook…

It begins with a four-page table of contents. Here is the first page:

Handwritten table of contents. Includes overall category of "the stars." Constellations are identified, including circumpolar, such as Ursa Major, Ursa minor, Cassiopeia, and others, and zodiacal, including Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, and others.
Alcott wrote a four-page Table of Contents for her notebook.

In an entry dated Saturday, September 26th, [19]14, 7:30-9:15pm, she provides a drawing and description of observations of Jupiter, apparently through a telescope:

Handwritten entry for Jupiter includes a simple pencil drawing of a circle with four shaded horizontal bars and a narrative description describing "four belts" observed on the planet.
Alcott’s description of Jupiter.

An entry for Monday, October 19, 1914 is on Altazimuth circles, including a description of the scientific instrument and how to take a measurement:

Page of notebook shows a hand-drawn scientific instrument referred to as an altazimuth and description of how to use it in measuring altazimuth circles.
Alcott’s description of altazimuth circles.

Dated Monday, October 19, 1914 are two pages of measurements of the moon’s path across the sky for the month of October, followed by positions of the sun for January 1 through May 15:

Two handwritten pages showing the moon's coordinates in the sky for each day, measured in right ascension and declination.
Alcott gives sky coordinates for the moon’s path each day in October.

For Thursday, October 28, [19]14, Alcott includes drawings of four constellations: Hercules, Sagittarius, Capricornus, and Lyra. Notice the stamped date “Oct 26 1914” in the lower right corner of the right page–a mark from an instructor.

Constellation drawings use dots labeled with various symbols. Three include dashed lines to draw out the visual constellation. Short handwritten descriptions accompany the drawings.
Alcott’s drawings of constellations.

For Thursday, January 13, 1915, Alcott’s notebook takes on another level of complexity. Accompanying a written description of the moon’s path across the sky is a folded diagram, which has been pasted into the pages of her notebook:

On left page of notebook is a written description of the moon's path on the sky. On the right page is folded large piece of paper that has been pasted to the page.
Folded diagram.

Here is the diagram, partially unfolded:

Image shows the diagrma partially unfolded, revealing grid paper on which are drawn x- and y- axes and two curves stretching down the left side and the page and gradually curving upward on the right side.
Partially unfolded diagram.

A later entry dated Friday, Jan. 15, 1915 appears to answer a set of questions about the solar spectrum:

Two notebook pages of handwritten notes responding to a series of questions related to the solar spectrum. One answer includes a diagram from a spectroscope with vertical bars on a horizontal range, labeled red, yellow, green, and blue.
Questions on the solar spectrum.

Related manuscript collections include: Mary Ann Wilder mathematics notebook, 1823-1824 (MS-0743) and Hannah Haines teacher’s notebooks, 1836-1837 (MS-0731), the latter of which is yet to be processed.

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