Capturing the Stars: The Untold History of Women at Yerkes Observatory

Exhibition Dates: September 18 – ­­­­December 15, 2023
Exhibition Location: The Joseph Regenstein Library, 1100 East 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637

Astronomer looking into 40-inch refractor telescope
Astronomer at the 40-inch refractor telescope of Yerkes Observatory under the 90-foot dome. The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library.

Women contributed to the advancement of astronomy and astrophysics at Yerkes Observatory in the early twentieth century. They were not only calculators or assistants. They earned degrees, conducted their own research, collaborated on projects with peers of both sexes, worked on publications, and went on to have a variety of careers both within and beyond the sciences. Yet their stories have remained untold—until now.

Drawing from letters, books, journals, photographs, astronomical glass plates, and scientific tools from the University of Chicago Library’s Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, as well as materials borrowed from Yerkes Observatory, Lowell Observatory, and the Adler Planetarium, this exhibition explores the astronomical work and lived experiences of the women who contributed to astronomical research at the Yerkes Observatory. In so doing, it also foregrounds the ways in which Yerkes Observatory was a uniquely welcoming place for women and the role communities play in the advancement of both science and individual careers.


Andrea Twiss-Brooks, Director of Humanities and Area Studies, The University of Chicago Library
Kristine Palmieri, PhD'22, Postdoctoral Researcher, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, The University of Chicago


Visitors to the University of Chicago Library may obtain a visitor pass by checking in at Regenstein Library's entry desk. Get more visitor information.

Exhibition Gallery Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 9 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.; Wednesday: 10 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.

Two women standing in front of building
Vera Gushee and Elsie Johns

Vera Gushee (left), American astronomer and college professor, and Elsie Johns, both on the staff of Yerkes Observatory. The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library.

Mary Ross Calvert looks into telescope
Mary Calvert at telescope

Mary Ross Calvert, computer of Yerkes Observatory, operating the Kenwood 12-inch refractor telescope.  1926.  Photographer George C. Blakslee. The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library.


This exhibition is presented by the University of Chicago Library with additional generous support from the University of Chicago Women's Board, the John Crerar Foundation, and the Kathleen and Howard Zar Science Libraries Fund.

Associated Event

7th Biennial Kathleen A. Zar Symposium
Invisible Labor in Astronomy
September 14-16, 2023

Full Program Schedule
See in particular:

Friday, Sept. 15, 3:30-5 p.m. Capturing the Stars
at the Neubauer Collegium (5701 S. Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL)
An introduction to the activities of the research group and exhibition, featuring Richard G. Kron, Andrea Twiss-Brooks, Emily Kern, Sandra Schloen, Chelsea Kaufman, and Kristine Palmieri (all University of Chicago),

Friday, Sept, 15, 5:00-7:00 p.m. Exhibition Opening and Reception
at the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, The Joseph Regenstein Library (1100 E. 57th Street, Chicago, IL)

Images and Media Contact

Images from the exhibition included on this page are available for download to members of the media and are reserved for editorial use in connection with University of Chicago Library exhibitions, programs, or related news. For more information, contact Rachel Rosenberg at or 773-834-1519.

Two rows of staff members at Yerkes Observatory under telescope
Yerkes Observatory staff, August 1919, from left (back row): Storrs B. Barrett, Hannah Steele Pettit, Edison Pettit, Clifford C. Crump, Frances Allen, Florence Baldwin Lee, Helen Davis, Evelyn W. Wickham, Oliver J. Lee, Mary Ross Calvert, Inez Wendell, Alice Hall Farnsworth, John Paraskevopoulos, Harriet M. Parsons, Paul A. Biefeld; (front row) George Van Biesbroeck, Francis P. Leavenworth, Edwin Brant Frost (Director), Albert A. Michelson, Edward Emerson Barnard, John A. Parkhurst.