Klumpke, Dorothea (1861–1942)

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Klumpke, Dorothea (1861–1942)

First American woman astronomer to receive a Ph.D. Name variations: Dorothea Klumpke Roberts. Born Dorothea Klumpke on August 9, 1861, in San Francisco, California; died on October 5, 1942, in San Francisco; daughter of John Gerard Klumpke and Dorothea Matilda (Tolle) Klumpke; sister of Anna Elizabeth Klumpke (1856–1942), Augusta Klumpke (1859–1927), and Matilda and Julia Klumpke; attended public and private schools in San Francisco and Europe; University of Paris, B.S., mathematics and mathematical astronomy, 1886, Ph.D., 1893; married Isaac Roberts (1829–1904), on October 17, 1901; no children.


Prix des Dames, Societe Astronomique de France (1889); Officer of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1893); fellow, Royal Astronomical Society; Helene-Paul Helbronner prize, French Academy of Sciences (1932); Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (1934).

Attachée, Paris Observatory (1887–1901), Head, Bureau of Measurements, Paris Observatory (1891–1901); assistant to husband Isaac Roberts (1901–04); private research (1904–34).

Selected publications:

Isaac Roberts Atlas of 52 Regions (1929).

Dorothea Klumpke epitomizes the pioneering woman astronomer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From balloon observations of the Perseids to her Ph.D. in Paris, Klumpke's life was filled with "firsts."

She was born on August 9, 1861, in San Francisco, California, to wealthy German immigrant John Klumpke and Dorothea Tolle Klumpke . Klumpke, the middle of five daughters, also had two brothers, one of whom died in infancy. John Klumpke had made a fortune in real estate and boot-making, and sent his wife and children to Europe around 1877 in order to secure their best possible education. The results were remarkable: the son became a businessman, and the daughters became a physician Augusta Klumpke , an artist Anna Elizabeth Klumpke , a pianist Matilda Klumpke , a violinist Julia Klumpke , and a famous astronomer (Dorothea). Dorothea studied mathematics and mathematical astronomy at the University of Paris and received her B.S. in 1886 and Ph.D. in 1893, the first awarded to a woman at that institution, and the first Ph.D. awarded to an American woman on an astronomical topic (the rings of Saturn).

Klumpke was hired as an attachée at the Paris Observatory and became involved with the International Congress of Astronomers' Carte du Ciel, a photographic star chart project. She was appointed the head of the Special Bureau of Measurements at the Observatory in 1891, and was responsible for charting and cataloguing stars down to the 14th magnitude. Her work earned her the first award of the Prix des Dames of the Societe Astronomique de France (1889), and she was named an Officer of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1893). Klumpke became widely known for her selection as the observer for a November 16, 1889, balloon flight for the Perseid meteor shower.

On October 17, 1901, she married famed Welsh amateur astronomer and nebular astrophotography pioneer Isaac Roberts and became his assistant at his observatory in Sussex, England. After his sudden death in 1904, Klumpke moved Roberts' plate collection to France and lived with her sister Anna while continuing his work on charting and cataloguing nebulae. She published a number of articles in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and in 1929 published the Isaac Roberts Atlas of 52 Regions: A Guide to William Herschel's Fields of Nebulosity, with a supplement in 1932. For this work, she received the Helene-Paul Helbronner prize of the French Academy of Science in 1932.

Perseveringly we labour, taking little heed to the cares of the morrow, knowing that astronomy, like spiritual understanding, bears within her her own blessings.

—Dorothea Klumpke

Klumpke, Augusta (1859–1927)

American doctor. Name variations: Augusta Dejerine or Déjerine. Born Augusta Klumpke in 1859; died in 1927; daughter of John Gerard Klumpke and Dorothea Matilda (Tolle) Klumpke; sister of Anna Elizabeth Klumpke (1856–1942) and Dorothea Klumpke (1861–1942); educated in Switzerland and Paris; married Joseph Jules Dejerine.

Born in the United States in 1859, Augusta Klumpke studied in Switzerland and Paris because she could not gain admittance to medical school in America. While in Europe, she and Blanche Edwards secured appointments for postgraduate training. Augusta was granted a prize from the Academy of Medicine for her discovery of Klumpke palsy, a partial paralysis of the arm, caused by injury to the lower brachial plexus nerve. Augusta married Joseph Jules Dejerine and the couple wrote a book on nervous pathology.

In 1934, Klumpke was elected Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and was presented with the Cross of the Legion by Albert Lebrun, president of France, for her 48 years of service to French astronomy. She then returned to San Francisco with her sister Anna and became a philanthropist, endowing prizes for young astronomers at the Paris Observatory and students at the University of California, and donating to the Lecture fund of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Upon Klumpke's death on October 5, 1942, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific received an additional endowment and created the Dorothea Klumpke Roberts Award for the popularization of astronomy; recipients have included Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. Dorothea Klumpke is mainly recognized through these generous gifts to further astronomy, although her own astronomical work contributed to the field in ways that alone should justify her remembrance.


Aitken, Robert G. "Dorothea Klumpke Roberts—an Appreciation," in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Vol. LIV, no. 321. December 1942, p. 217–222.

Bracher, Katherine. "Dorothea Klumpke Roberts: A Forgotten Astronomer," in Mercury. Vol. X, no. 5. September–October 1981, p. 139–140.

Hoffleit, Dorrit . The Education of Women Astronomers Before 1960. Cambridge, MA: AAVSO, 1994.

Reynolds, J.H. "Dorothea Klumpke Roberts," in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Vol. CIV, no. 2, 1944, p. 92–93.

suggested reading:

Klumpke, Dorothea. "A Night in a Balloon," in Century Magazine. Vol. LX, 1900, p. 276–284.

——. "The Work of Women in Astronomy," in Observatory. Vol. XXII, 1899, p. 295–300.

Weitzenhoffer, Kenneth. "The Triumph of Dorothea Klumpke," in Sky and Telescope. Vol. LXXII, no. 2, 1986, p. 109–110.

Kristine Larsen , Associate Professor of Astronomy and Physics, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut