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Makemson, Maud Worcester (1891–1977)

Makemson, Maud Worcester (1891–1977)

American astronomy professor and author noted for her work in archaeoastronomy and astrodynamics . Name variations: Maud W. Makemson. Born Maud Worcester on September 16, 1891, in Center Harbor, New Hampshire; died on December 25, 1977, in Weatherford, Texas; daughter of Ira Eugene Worcester and Fannie Malvina Davisson Worcester; attended Girls Latin School of Boston, 1908; attended Radcliffe, 1908–09; University of California, A.B., astronomy, 1925, A.M., astronomy, 1927, Ph.D., astronomy, 1930; married Thomas Emmet Makemson, on August 7, 1912 (divorced, July 1919); children: Lavon, Donald, Harris.


Morrison Fellow, Lick Observatory (1930); Guggenheim fellow (1941–42); Fulbright professor, Japan (1953–54).

Was newspaper reporter in Arizona (1917–21); was assistant professor of mathematics, Rollins College (1931–32); was assistant professor of astronomy, chair of astronomy department, director of observatory, Vassar College (1932–57); was research astronomer and lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles (1959–64); was consultant, Consolidated Lockheed-California (1961–63), General Dynamics, Ft. Worth (1965).

Selected writings:

The Morning Star Rises (1941); The Astronomical Tables of the Maya (1943); The Book of the Jaguar Priest (1951); (with Robert M.L. Baker, Jr.) An Introduction to Astrodynamics (1961).

During her 86 years, Maud Worcester Makemson made the successful transition from housewife to astronomy professor to NASA consultant. Born Maud Worcester on September 16, 1891, in Center Harbor, New Hampshire, to Ira Eugene Worcester and Fannie Davisson Worcester , Maud discovered the beauty of the night sky at age eight, after receiving her first pair of eyeglasses. However, as a student at the Girls Latin School of Boston, she concentrated on the classics, a trend she continued during her term at Radcliffe College, in 1909–10. She taught for a year at a one-room school in Connecticut before moving with her family to Pasadena, California, where she married Thomas Emmet Makemson. Between 1913 and 1917, the couple had a daughter Lavon and sons Donald and Harris while farming in Southern California and Arizona. To help ends meet, Makemson became a reporter for the Bisbee Review in 1917 and later for the Arizona Gazette, while her husband joined the Marine Corps. The couple divorced in 1919.

Maud's life changed in 1921 when she witnessed a rare auroral display in Arizona and began studying astronomy, first on her own, and later as a student at the University of California where she received her A.B. in 1925, A.M. in 1927, and Ph.D. in 1930. After teaching math at Rollins College in 1931–32, she joined the faculty of Vassar College as assistant professor of astronomy; she later became chair of the astronomy department and director of the Observatory.

Makemson became interested in archaeoastronomy and received grants and fellowships to research Polynesian astronomy and celestial navigation and Mayan astronomy and calendar systems, resulting in numerous articles and her books The Morning Star Rises (1941) and The Book of the Jaguar Priest (1951). "Mayan astronomy offers a fascinating field for research to anyone who combines an interest in archaeology with a love for astronomy and who has the time and patience to learn to work with strange-looking hieroglyphs," she wrote.

Retired in 1957, she moved to California, where she became a research astronomer and lecturer from 1959 to 1964 and consultant at Consolidated Lockheed-California from 1961 to 1963. She also co-authored An Introduction to Astrodynamics. Makemson launched the final phase of her career in 1965, when she moved to Texas and became a NASA consultant at the Applied Research Laboratories of General Dynamics in Fort Worth. There she devised a method for astronauts to navigate on the moon without using radio or radar. Maud Makemson died on Christmas 1977, in Weatherford, Texas.


Bailey, Martha J. American Women in Science. NY: ABC-CLIO, 1994.

Block, Maxine, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1941.

Cattel, Jacques, ed. American Men of Science, Vol. 1. Lancaster, PA: Science Press, 1955.

"Maud Worcester Makemson," in Vassar College press release, January 4, 1978.

suggested reading:

Makemson, Maud W. "The Maya Calendar," in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Vol. LIX, 1947, pp. 17–26.

——. "South Sea Sailors Steer by the Stars," in The Sky. Vol. III. January 1939, pp. 3–21.

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

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