Fonds 1383 - Helen Sawyer Hogg fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1383


Helen Sawyer Hogg fonds


  • [ca. 1890]-2004, predominant 1926-1993 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

18.9 m of textual and graphic records (113 boxes)
8 sound recordings
6 moving images

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

One of Canada's most prominent astronomers and a world authority on globular clusters, Helen Sawyer Hogg is also credited with helping to popularize the science of astronomy and for providing an important role model for women in the Physical Sciences.

Born Helen Battles Sawyer on August 1, 1905 in Lowell, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of a banker and schoolteacher from Dunstable, Massachusetts. She attended public school in Lowell and in 1922 she entered Mount Holyoke College, earning an A.B. (Magna cum Laude) in 1926. It was here that she was influenced by the inspirational teachings of Anne Sewell Young, who in no small measure helped to forge her interest in astronomy. It was also at Mount Holyoke she met another major figure in women's astronomy, Annie J. Cannon who was visiting from the Harvard College Observatory. Helen was later offered a Harvard College fellowship to pursue graduate work on globular star clusters where she worked under the leading expert in the field, Harlow Shapley. She obtained her A.M. from Radcliffe in 1928, earned her Ph.D. from the same institution in 1931 and continued to specialize in globular clusters throughout her professional life.

She met her first husband, Frank Scott Hogg, a Canadian graduate student, at the Harvard Observatory and was married in 1930. In 1929 Frank Hogg received the first doctorate in astronomy awarded by Harvard College and Helen Hogg's own Ph.D. was only the third accorded by Radcliffe College, its women's college affiliate. In 1931, Frank Hogg accepted an appointment at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria B.C., then under the directorship of J.S. Plaskett. She followed her husband, continuing her research at the observatory, first as an unpaid volunteer and later with the help of foundation grants.

In 1935, Frank Hogg accepted a position at the University of Toronto with the David Dunlap Observatory, which was to have its formal opening that year. Initially Helen Hogg once again worked as an unpaid volunteer until receiving an appointment as a research assistant with the University in 1936. She continued to teach at the University and work at the observatory for the following four decades. Frank Hogg became director of the observatory in 1946, a position he held until his death at age 46 in 1951. Career advancement came more rapidly following the death of her husband and Helen Hogg attained the standing of professor with the university in 1957, became research professor in 1974 and professor emeritus in 1976.

She interrupted her work at the University twice throughout her career. The first was as Acting Chairman of the Astronomy Department at Mount Holyoke College in 1940-41. The second time was in 1955-1956 when she spent an academic year in Washington as Program Director for Astronomy at the National Science Foundation.

Apart from her responsibilities at the University, Dr. Hogg was very active in numerous academic and astronomy associations. Among the many important positions she held were: president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (1957-1959); first woman president of the Physical Sciences section of the Royal Society of Canada (1960-1961); president of the Royal Canadian Institute (1964-1965); founding president of the Canadian Astronomical Society (1971-1972). Outside her academic milieu, her leadership was recognized when she was appointed one of the first two women directors of Bell Telephone Company of Canada (1968-1978). She also served on the Advisory Committee of Science and Medicine for EXPO 1967.

When her husband Frank Hogg died suddenly in 1951, Dr. Hogg took over the writing of a weekly column "With the Stars" which he had been producing for the Toronto Star. For the next thirty years, she faithfully churned out the column which would provide her with the basis for her popular science work "The Stars Belong to Everyone" (1976). Together, the book and the column, along with a TV Ontario series on astronomy in 1970, established her as one of Canada's best-known popular astronomers. In 1983, Dr. Hogg was the first Canadian to receive the Klumpke-Roberts Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for her work in public education, whose past recipients include Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan.

In addition to her work in popular astronomy, Dr. Hogg was also a recognized expert in the study of globular clusters, an area of research on which she published over a hundred articles, including several editions of "A Catalogue of Variable Stars in Globular Clusters". In 1972, an International Astronomical Union Colloquium was held in honour of her life work in this field. Another area, which drew her interest, was the history of astronomy on which she was also widely published.

Throughout her lengthy career, she received numerous honours, awards and medals including the Annie J. Cannon Prize (American Astronomical Society 1950); the Rittenhouse Medal (< biblio >); the Sandford Fleming Medal (Royal Canadian Institute 1985). In 1967 she was invested into the Order of Canada and in 1976 she attained the Order's highest level when she was made a Companion of the Order, an honour accorded to only 150 Canadians at any one time. She received honorary degrees from Mount Holyoke (1958), University of Waterloo (1962), McMaster University (1976), University of Toronto (1977), Saint Mary's University (1981) and University of Lethbridge (1985). She has had two telescopes dedicated to her: one at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa (1987), the other at the University of Toronto Southern Observatory in Chile (1992). Asteroid 2917 was named Sawyer Hogg in 1984. In 1985 the Canadian Astronomical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada established the annual Helen Sawyer Hogg lectureship in her honour.

Intertwined with her career was Dr. Hogg's devotion to her family and friends, an aspect well documented within her personal papers. When she died at the age of 88 on January 28 1993, she was survived by three children, seven grand children and four great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her first husband Frank Hogg and her second husband Dr. F.E.L. Priestly, whom she had married in 1985.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This fonds contains the personal and professional papers of Dr. Helen Sawyer Hogg documenting her contribution to professional astronomy, her high regard as a popular educator as well as her responsibilities as a parent, daughter, wife and friend. The records have been arranged into series either by type of record or to reflect a certain type of activity. Records documenting various aspects of her career are filed first, followed by papers reflecting her personal life.

Included is both professional and personal correspondence; records relating to her activities on associations, boards and organizations; records such as draft manuscripts, correspondence and outlines and data relating to her publishing activities and research; papers relating to her education and her teaching responsibilities; as well as diaries and family papers series.

Because Dr. Hogg's career spanned nearly seven decades during a time astronomy as a discipline was still developing both nationally and internationally, these records are not only useful to those researching Dr. Hogg's achievements but will be insightful to those researchers studying the development of astronomy as a science and profession. Moreover, Dr. Hogg was a woman in a field of science, which is still dominated by men. Those studying women's history may find Dr. Hogg's personal records a useful case study in one woman's success in a largely male dominated profession.

Contained within the Helen S. Hogg personal records are three sous-fonds: Frank S. Hogg [1922-1952], her first husband and also an astronomer at the David Dunlap Observatory; Prof. Ruth Northcott [1932-1969], close personal friend and professional colleague of Helen Hogg, also on staff at the D.D.O.; Dr. C.A. Chant [193- - 194-], director emeritus of the D.D.O and head of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Toronto from 1904-1935. These sous-fonds are individually described and have been filed after the Helen Hogg personal records.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Although special media records such as slides, photographs, sound recordings, films and videos directly relate to the textual series, they have been arranged by media at the end. Exceptions to this arrangement are the photographs which were found in textual files and which were removed whenever possible for conservation reasons. In such cases a sheet noting the removal of the image(s) to a specific file in Box B1994-0002/001P was placed in the file so that researchers could easily find the related photographs.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open unless otherwise noted in the Series or Sous-Fonds Descriptions.

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)















Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used

Dates of creation revision deletion




Accession area

Related subjects

Related people and organizations

Related places