Phoebe Waterman Haas

Portrait of Phoebe Waterman Haas

Phoebe Waterman Haas
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 9A12030)

Phoebe Waterman Haas (1883–1975) was one of the first two women to earn a PhD in astronomy at Berkeley, both awarded in 1914. Waterman graduated from Vassar College with a BS and MS in astronomy and worked as an astronomer before being accepted to Berkeley’s graduate program. Waterman commented about the difference between Vassar and Berkeley, the new experience of competing with men: “I am getting used to the different standard a little—for it surely is a different one, and quite a different thing from measuring up against women.” Professor Armin Otto Leuschner, who ran Berkeley’s astronomy program, described Waterman as “one of the most unusually well-equipped women we have ever had at Berkeley. She is brilliant, quick and accurate and disposes of her work with promptness and accuracy.”[1] Her thesis title was “The Visual Region of the Spectrum of the Brighter Class A Stars.” Waterman is believed to be the first woman astronomer to conduct her own telescopic research and not rely on the observations of others. She studied at the Lick Observatory near San Jose. Despite her productivity as an independent scholar, Phoebe Waterman never attained a faculty position. In a case similar to that of Emma Lehmer, she gave up a paid career as a promising astronomer to marry Otto Haas and care for a family, but she continued lifelong research in astronomy through her scientific observations and performing calculations as a citizen scientist. Her grandson, Otto Haas, donated $6 million to support science education through the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory at the National Air and Space Museum.
Biography courtesy of Sheila Humphreys, from “Women Pioneers in Science and Math at Berkeley”

Read more about Haas here:
[1] Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, “Introducing the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory,” July 16, 2013. (external link)