Finding Aid to the Papers of Martha Stahr Carpenter, 1943-1965
Short description: Beginning in 1948, Martha Stahr Carpenter compiled, edited and published the first-ever comprehensive bibliographies of the world's literature in radio astronomy. This collection is comprised of her bibliographies and related correspondence, administrative records, and many of the reprints included in her bibliographies. Also included are correspondence and notes relating to Carpenter’s research interests in galactic structure, radio astronomy and variable stars.
Her first year of college was at Hood College, where her astronomy professor encouraged her already keen interest in astronomy. She then transferred to Wellesley College where she received a BA in 1941, majoring in astronomy and building her own telescope for variable star observations. She went on to graduate studies and received her MS (1943) and PhD (1945) in astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught astronomy at Wellesley College from 1945-1947, then at Cornell University from 1950 until 1968, where she was the first woman faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences. She represented the Astronomy Department in the radio-wave astronomy project operated jointly with the School of Electrical Engineering, and developed and taught a number of undergraduate and graduate astronomy courses. In 1954-1955, during a year in Australia, she used the Potts Hill radio telescope to observe 21-cm radio waves from hydrogen, and was co-author of papers with Kerr and Hindman that combined northern and southern hemisphere data in mapping the galaxy. She completed her career as an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia, retiring in 1986.
Beginning with the Bibliography of Radio Astronomy and its several Supplements (1948-1950), and continuing for 1950-1965 with the volumes of Bibliography of Extraterrestrial Radio Noise, she published the first-ever comprehensive bibliographies of the world's literature in radio astronomy. At the time, much of the radio astronomy literature was published in journals not normally read by most astronomers: engineering journals and foreign publications not readily available in the U.S. The Bibliographies were funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research. Carpenter wrote the abstracts, but relied on married women with children who had science or engineering backgrounds and foreign language skills to help her find relevant articles, paying them out of her grant money.
Her personal research interests were in galactic structure, radio astronomy and variable stars. She was elected to the American Association of Variable Star Observers Council in 1946, served as a vice president from 1948-1951, and served three terms as president, from 1951-1954, during a turbulent time when AAVSO left Harvard. In addition to AAVSO, she was a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Astronomical Union.
She was an avid bridge player and enjoyed gardening, watching hummingbirds, collecting stamps and taking road trips.
She died peacefully in Charlottesville, VA on February 12, 2013, at the age of 92.
[Biographical note written by Ellen Bouton.]
Preferred citation: National Radio Astronomy Observatory/Associated Universities, Inc. Archives, Papers of Martha Stahr Carpenter, <series/unit/subunit/box #>. After the initial citation, abbreviations may be used: NRAO/AUI Archives, Carpenter Papers, <series/unit/subunit/box #>.
Processing notes: Arrangement, description, indexing, foldering and boxing of this material was done by Heather Cole in fall 2020. During the processing, fasteners were removed, duplicates were discarded and materials were removed from folders and envelopes. Carpenter’s folder titles were maintained whenever possible. See the Miscellaneous Reprints Series for specifics on the processing of that series.
Carpenter’s bibliographies changed names over the course of publication as she refined her focus and attempted to keep up with the growing body of literature. Carpenter’s first bibliography, Bibliography of Radio Astronomy, was published in December 1948 and began with an abstract of Karl Jansky’s 1932 article in the Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers and continued with an annotated list of “references pertaining wholly or in part to that phase of radio astronomy which deals with radio-frequency radiations from extraterrestrial sources.” She published two Supplements, in 1949 and early 1950.
In August 1950, Carpenter published a new comprehensive bibliography under a new title: Bibliography of Extraterrestrial Radio Noise. This new bibliography was updated with Supplements for 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953, published between 1952 and 1960.
Beginning in 1957, Carpenter also began publishing a series of lists of recent publications (without abstracts). The first was Bibliography of Extraterrestrial Radio Noise: List of Publications Issued During the Period 1952-1956 Inclusive, followed by Quarterly Lists of Recent Publications throughout 1957 and 1958. In September 1958, the Quarterly Lists began to be published under a new title: Bibliography of Natural Radio Emission from Astronomical Sources.
In 1962, Carpenter resumed her yearly annotated updates under the new title, with Bibliography of Natural Radio Emission from Astronomical Sources: Volume for 1961 published in 1962, followed by Volume for 1957, Volume for 1962 and Volume for 1963. These Volumes also saw Carpenter make extensive use of “scanners,” contract staff hired to search journals for relevant literature. Those are documented in her “Scanning Records” for those years.
Evidence suggests that Carpenter intended to continue her Volumes for 1959-1960 and 1964 as there are reprints and scanning records relating to those years. It also appears that she was planning a new comprehensive bibliography to include earlier reprints discovered since the 1950 Bibliography of Extraterrestrial Radio Noise. These bibliographies were never completed or published, however.
Carpenter received initial funding for her bibliographies from the Office of Naval Research. Beginning in 1958, she added a grant from the National Science Foundation. All the bibliographies were published by Cornell University, initially by the School of Electrical Engineering and then, beginning 1959, by the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell.
Below is a list of her bibliographies, sorted by publication date:
The Bibliographies Series is divided into four units.
Carpenter Publications Series: This series is comprised of Carpenter’s publications unrelated to her bibliographies. It includes articles, book reviews, a chapter from an edited collection and her MA and PhD theses. The first folder contains a listing of Carpenter’s publications through 1948. Size: 0.5 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.
Correspondence Series: This series includes correspondence related to Carpenter’s position in the Astronomy Department at Cornell University, her bibliographies and radio astronomy. Carpenter’s folder titles and organization were preserved. Dates: 1946-1967. Size: 1.5 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.
Notes and Papers Series: This series includes lecture notes, project reports, notes from academic conferences, memos from Cornell University meetings and various folders of research notes. Size: 2 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.
Photographs Series: This series is comprised of one folder of largely unidentified and undated photographs that were found with Carpenter’s other archival material. Size: One folder. Click here for a folder listing and links to digitized photos.
Miscellaneous Reprints Series: In addition to the reprints that are included in the Bibliographies Series, Carpenter also collected a number of other reprints. Many were sent to her by authors and publishers, perhaps hoping to have them included in future bibliographies. Many came into her possession from Charles R. Burrows, Director of the School of Engineering at Cornell University and a colleague of Carpenter. Many reprints were still in envelopes and were not sorted or identified in any way by Carpenter. During the processing of this collection, NRAO Senior Scientist (Emeritus) Kenneth I. Kellermann selected for retention the reprints pertaining to radio astronomy, especially those that were not readily available online or in the NRAO Library. The archivist organized them in alphabetical order by author and those reprints comprise this series. Other reprints were discarded. Size: 2 linear feet. Click here for a listing of folders.
Miscellany Series: This series includes an assortment of objects that Carpenter saved, including stationery, a star finder and the stamp that was used to create the cover for her bibliographies. Size: one box (6”x12”x15”). Click here for a listing of items.