Born: Lowell, Massachusetts, August 1, 1905
Died: Richmond Hill, Ontario, January 28, 1993
A Gift of Stars
An astronomer who brought the gift of the stars to everyone, Helen Sawyer Hogg led a life of remarkable achievement. She is well known for her research on variable stars in globular clusters, but she is perhaps best remembered for her astronomy column, which ran in the Toronto Star from 1951 to 1981. Helen wanted everyone to find the same joy in the stars that she did. She encouraged women to enter science, and her students remember her for her enthusiasm and warmth.
She entered Mount Holyoke College with the intention of studying chemistry, but in 1925 she changed her mind and began her study of astronomy. Her decision was fixed permanently a year later when Annie Jump Cannon visited Mount Holyoke. Indeed, on graduating in 1926, Sawyer went to the Harvard Observatory to work with Cannon and Harlow Shapley on star clusters. She obtained her doctorate in 1931 from Radcliffe College. (Harvard did not give graduate degrees in science to women at that time.)
In 1930, she married Frank Hogg, a fellow astronomy student at Harvard. Together they moved to Victoria, British Columbia, to work at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory where Frank had a job. Helen was not hired with her husband, and she had to work as his volunteer assistant.
Hogg started her work on variable stars in globular clusters while in Victoria. She developed a technique for measuring the distance of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. She took pictures of variable stars and catalogued the cyclical changes in their brightness, which she then used to calculate their distance. Her detailed observations were published in catalogs that are still used today.
In 1935, the family moved to Ontario so that Frank could take a job at the University of Toronto. Helen became an assistant at the David Dunlop Observatory, where she would work until her death. She also taught at the University of Toronto and became a professor in 1957. In 1940-1941 she was a visiting professor and acting chair of the department of astronomy at Mount Holyoke College, and in 1955-1956 she was a program director in astronomy for the National Science Foundation. She was considered a world expert on the night sky.
In 1950 she won the Annie Jump Cannon prize of the American Astronomical Society. In 1967 she was awarded the Centennial Medal of Canada and in 1976 she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada--one of the highest honors in the nation. She became the first woman president of the physical sciences section of the Royal Society of Canada in 1960. She was also the first female president of the Royal Canadian Institute (1964-1965) and founding president of the Canadian Astronomical Society (1971-1972).
She remained active in astronomy until late in life. She published more than 200 papers during her long and distinguished career. In addition, she wrote The Stars Belong to Everyone, a popular guide to astronomy, and hosted an astronomy television series in the 1970s. Hogg received honorary degrees from six Canadian and U.S. universities. Both the Canadian National Museum of Science and Technology's observatory in Ottawa and the University of Toronto's southern observatory in Chile were named for her. When Helen Sawyer Hogg died of a heart attack in 1993, she had been a leading authority in astronomy for more than 60 years.