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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2011

10 - Learning about independence



It is human nature always to strive to reach fainter and more distant objects. …

– Margaret W. Mayall, 1950, from a radio talk about Annie Jump Cannon

With the retirement of Leon Campbell in 1949, the AAVSO waited expectantly for an announcement of who would replace him as the second AAVSO Recorder. The choice was important: knowledgeable members recognized the change would come at an obvious inflection point in the history of variable star astronomy.

Although well established and recognized in both the scientific community and by amateur observers, the AAVSO was in a state of change. The Old Guard, so instrumental in its survival, had faded away, and the organization was looking for new leaders. Its affiliation with HCO had been facilitated by Campbell, who served as AAVSO Recorder and Pickering Memorial Astronomer. Whether he would be replaced by Harvard College was a question of vital importance to the organization. At the same time, HCO and its Director Harlow Shapley were fighting their own struggle to replace deteriorating equipment and to support their far-flung operations in Africa. This chapter provides background on Campbell's successor, Margaret W. Mayall, explores her early career at HCO and her first years as AAVSO Recorder, and shows how she responded to the emerging crisis that threatened the continued existence of the AAVSO.

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