Winlock, Anna (1857–1904)

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Winlock, Anna (1857–1904)

American astronomer. Born in 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; died in 1904 in Cambridge; daughter of Joseph Winlock (an astronomer) and Isabella (Lane) Winlock; received high school education; self-taught astronomer.

Anna Winlock was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1857, the elder daughter of Joseph and Isabella Winlock . Joseph, an astronomer, was the third director of the Harvard College Observatory. Anna took an avid interest in his work and exhibited remarkable abilities in mathematics from a young age. In 1869, when she was 12 years old, she and her father traveled to Kentucky to observe a solar eclipse. She completed grade school and high school just before her father died in June 1875. Winlock never received any further formal education, but taught herself astronomy and followed in her father's career, becoming one of the first women to hold a paid position as a staff member at the Harvard College Observatory.

Although Winlock did not contribute to the body of astronomical theory, she was a skilled observer, mathematician, calculator, and analyst of astronomical data. She could comprehend large amounts of raw information and assimilate it into a more accessible form. Performing a wide range of tasks, Winlock completed tedious calculations related to meridian circle observations, and made independent observations and computations. While still in school, she assisted staff at the Harvard College Observatory with work on a comprehensive star catalogue. The Cambridge observatory was one of many observatories worldwide that participated in the enormous project of producing the comprehensive Astronomischer Gesellschaft. The sky had been subdivided into zones or sections by circles that paralleled the celestial equator, and the Harvard Observatory worked on the "Cambridge zone." Winlock continued working on this project, which lasted nearly as long as her life, after formally joining the staff. Astronomer William Rogers, who was responsible for the project, observed a series of assistants who joined and left the tedious project while Winlock remained. Winlock earned Rogers' respect, not only as an assistant but as a true scientific colleague.

Winlock's other research at the Observatory included supervising the preparation of a table listing the relative positions of variable stars in clusters and their comparison stars; this work was published in Volume 38 of the Observatory's Annals. Winlock determined the path of the asteroid Eros, one of the largest inner asteroids. She also found the circular orbit for the asteroid Ocllo, and later assisted in determining its elliptical elements. Her most significant independent investigation, a catalogue of the stars near the North and South poles, was the most complete compilation assembled at that time. Documentation of her work was published in the Annals, volume 17, parts 9 through 10. Winlock's dedicated work contributed significantly to the growing field of astronomy. She died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1904, still a member of the staff of the Harvard College Observatory.


Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. Women in Science. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Press, 1993.

Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California

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Winlock, Anna (1857–1904)

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