Martha Stahr Carpenter
Contributed by Ellen N. Bouton
Martha "Patty" Stahr Carpenter was born on May 29, 1920, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, daughter of Henry Irvin Stahr and Alice Stockwell Stahr.
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. 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 U.S. Navy. 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.