Hjalmar Tallqvist, professor of physics:
"There have been no great geniuses among women
working in astronomy [...] but instead, they have
shown themselves to be good and diligent workers in
the great building of science. The genius cannot create
evolution by itself, but the conscientious toiling
with the lesser details is just as important. [...]
That [astronomical work] has had a specific
attraction for women seems to lie as well in the nature
of astronomy as in the nature of women."
Kvinnorna i vetenskapen: astronomi, matematik, fysik,
radiologi (Helsingfors: Söderströms, 1932).
IN THE SHADOW OF THE STARS
The University of Helsinki observatory participated in 1892-1930
in the large international Carte du Ciel project to chart
the sky with the new photographic means. The Helsinki share
of the programme consisted of some 120 000 stars. It was
a huge and work intensive undertaking. The professor of astronomy
at Helsinki, Anders Donner, imported the idea of using women
computers. As many as nineteen diligent women women were employed
in measuring and computing tasks. After a while, two of the women
were doing some of the more complicated calculations along
with male assistants.
Among the women computers, Nanny Helin's career was the longest.
She worked at the observatory for 37 years, and towards the end,
all plates were measured by her. According to Donner's overview,
written in 1916, women were responsible for some 72 percent of
the whole workload of the Helsinki part of the astrophotographic
project until then.
The tradition of women computers was later followed by "planet girls"
in Turku. Also other physical and natural sciences needed women's
invisible input - there were women doing field work in e.g. biology.
Working with the catalogue:
in front, astronomers Wessel and Furuhjelm,
back, assistants O. Sederholm, M. Biese, Nanny Helin.
Not a heavenly view.
Women in the Helsinki Carte du Ciel project, 1893-1930.