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Sarah J. Hill (1909–1996)

Published onSep 01, 1996
Sarah J. Hill (1909–1996)

Sarah Hill, professor emeritus of astronomy at Wellesley College, died of natural causes on 13 February 1996 in her home in Natick at age 86 years. Born in 1909 in Concord, New Hampshire, Professor Hill was an eminent astronomer and an inspiring teacher to dozens of young women, many of whom are now prominent scientists and astronomers in their own right.

A 1929 graduate of Smith College, Hill pursued graduate studies at Columbia University where she obtained her PhD in 1942. From 1929 to 1934 she was a member of the technical staff at the Bell Telephone Laboratories and later became an instructor of physics and astronomy at Hunter College in New York. During the Second World War, she was a member of the scientific staff of the Columbia University Division of War Research. She was honored with a medal for her work in computing ballistic tables.

From 1945 to 1950, Hill was an associate in astronomy at Columbia University where she worked at the Rutherfurd Observatory measuring the photographic magnitudes of some 75,000 stars in the northern hemisphere of the sky. She then taught astronomy at Wheaton College in Massachusetts from 1950 until 1952, when she joined the Wellesley College faculty as associate professor. At the time of her retirement in 1974 she held the Lewis Atterbury Stimson Professorship.

Sarah Hill was a trailblazer for women in the field of astronomy, inspiring her students to pursue careers in the sciences before women were widely accepted in the field. In 1987, Commission 20 of the IAU named a newly-discovered asteroid for her, at the suggestion of a former student. "Sarahill," asteroid 3065, was discovered in 1984 and the announcement of its naming in the Minor Planets Circular read in part: "Her enthusiasm for teaching and for observational astronomy influenced ten graduates to earn doctorates and become professional astronomers. Many others among her students earned advanced degrees in astronomy or related fields."

Professor Hill was especially interested in the fields of photometry and galactic structure. Many of her articles were published in the Astronomical Journal, Sky and Telescope, and the Astrophysical Journal. Awarded a Science Faculty Fellowship by the National Science Foundation for 1958-59, she conducted research on quasi-stellar sources at Kitt Peak, repeating her visits in 1965-66 and again in 1971-72. She served two three-year terms on the AAS Committee on Education in Astronomy, was also on the astronomical committee of the Maria Mitchell Association and held memberships in the AAVSO and various honor societies. Her professional correspondence is preserved in the records of the Wellesley College Astronomy Department, housed in the College Archives.

She leaves a sister, Anne Kuhnert of Jamesville, New York and two nephews David F. Kuhnert of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey and Dale W. Kuhnert of Belfast, Maine.

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