From the August 2020 issue

Women in astronomy clubs

Focusing on diversity is a win for everyone.
By | Published: August 18, 2020 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

In looking over my past Observing Basics articles, I was surprised to discover that I’ve never devoted a full column to astronomy clubs. I’ll remedy that situation this month, but with an added element – a focus on women in astronomy clubs.
I may not know what it’s like to be a female member of a group that’s historically been male-dominated, but as a four-decade member of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston (ATMoB), I’ve seen firsthand how important it is to have a diverse club. And because female membership has room to grow, it seems fitting to highlight some of the club’s female members – concentrating on what got them into astronomy, as well as some of their outstanding accomplishments. Then, next month, we’ll tackle how clubs can encourage more women to join. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to some of our crew.First is our current treasurer, Eileen Myers. Myers became interested in astronomy in 1995 after attending lectures at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At these lectures, she met several ATMoB members, which led her to eventually visit our clubhouse in Westford, Massachusetts. She notes, “I was immediately greeted by a gentleman who put an eyepiece in my hand and explained the details of how a telescope works. That evening, I saw Stephan’s Quintet through a member’s 25-inch telescope. I was hooked on astronomy.”
Over the past quarter century, Myers’ growing passion for the night sky led her to undertake terms as both president and secretary of ATMoB. She has coordinated public star parties, organized social events, and produced the club’s newsletter, Star Fields. Her contributions to astronomy go well beyond ATMoB, too. Myers is also a member of the Springfield Telescope Makers in Vermont, helping them with their annual Stellafane Convention.
Then there’s Marion Hochuli, who holds the distinction of being ATMoB’s first female president. Her love of astronomy came at an early age. “I had the good fortune of having a mother who knew the bright stars and major constellations by name,” she recalls. “How many mothers would say on a chilly October night after putting out the garbage: ‘I know winter is coming – Capella is rising over our garage’?” Thanks in part to her mother instilling an early appreciation of the night sky, when Hochuli reflects on her experience as an ATMoB member, she says, “Being a female in a male hobby never really occurred to me. We were all just amateur astronomers with a common love of this hobby. We all knew the sky well, read and referred to the same books, had similar equipment, and spoke the same language (astronomy). I was just one of them.”Though Myers and Hochuli have been members of ATMoB for decades, you don’t have to be a veteran member to help an astronomy club reach its full potential. Case in point: Laura Sailor. Soon after joining the club in 2013, Sailor got involved in our outreach program, bringing her telescope to public star parties to share with as many people as possible. And like Hochuli, Sailor’s interest in astronomy was inspired by a family member. “The Moon has had a large draw for generations of my family, who are rooted under the northern lights in northern Maine,” she says. “My grandfather was an amazing storyteller and a self-taught astronomer.” Sailor sums up her reasons for getting involved in ATMoB activities with a simple but true statement: “The energy you put in is the energy you get out.”ATMoB’s grande dame is Anna Hillier, a member since the days of Sputnik 1. In fact, she was part of a Project Moonwatch team, which was among the first to spot the Soviet satellite after its launch in late 1957. A history of ATMoB compiled by Hillier shows that women have been a driving force in the club since the very beginning. In 1934, Thelma Johnson played a pivotal role in the club’s founding and served as its first secretary. In recent years, former president Virginia Renehan headed ATMoB’s Star Party Committee. With the help of Renehan’s tireless efforts, thousands of adults and children got their first telescopic glimpse of the wonders hiding in the night sky.Although this article was written about one club in Massachusetts, the narrative could apply to any group. You want as many enthusiastic members as possible!Next month: Why should women join astronomy clubs and how can current members make them feel more welcome? Hear what female readers of this column have to say. Clear skies!