From time to time, we have published the work of students in women's studies courses. The following essay, originally written as a term paper, is such a piece.
Last spring, I fulfilled Harvard's freshman Expository Writing requirement by taking the section Women in American History. Each student was asked to choose one woman from the many who have never been fully studied, and to write about her life and work for the entire semester. From a suggested list I chose Williamina Fleming, astronomer.
I soon realized that Fleming 's biography, while intriguing, would only yield so much information. She was a Scotswoman, I learned, bright, stubborn, and courageous. Abandoned by her husband within a year after they emigrated to America, she devoted the rest of her life to the Harvard College Observatory. I could not discover why she came to America, why her husband left her, what happened to him; but I decided Fleming was important, not for her personal life, but for her scientific work and as a case study in the problem of role definition for women in her profession.