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Whiting, Sarah Frances

Additional Information

Some Important Contributions:

"Sarah Whiting established the departments of physics and astronomy at Wellesley College; She probably was the first person to introduce laboratory experiments for women."

    See:  L. S. McDowell, "Physics at Wellesley", The American Physics Teacher, 4: 57 (1936).
" Her wide ranging interests, from electric lights to X-ray, the weather and astronomy, led her to the singular distinction of having made the first X-ray pictures in America." [nwps1997bfs]

She taught these subjects to women using demonstrations of her own design and construction with rigor and timely content. In 1895, after Roentgen's discovery of x-rays, she began incorporating this subject into her courses.

Whiting built a weather station where her students served as volunteer for the U.S. Weather Bureau. She designed an observatory endowed by a Wellesley trustee that included spectrophotometry equipment. There she directed student research in stellar and solar spectra.

Sarah Whiting generally published works on teaching methods. [8 MBO]

Daytime and Evening Exercises in Astronomy for Schools and Colleges, Boston:Ginn, (1912). [8 MBO]


1883 Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) [7 MWR1]
1905 Honorary doctorate, Tufts College [9D NAW]


1876-1912 Professor of Physics, Wellesley College [8 MBO]
1900-1916 Director, Whitin Observatory, Wellesley College [8 MBO]
1916-1927 Professor Emerita, Wellesley College


AB Ingham College 1865 [7 MWR1] [8 MBO]

References consulted:

[7 MWR1], [8 MBO], [9D NAW], [12 GKS], [51 MJB], [20A JG], [nwps1997bfs]

Additional Information/Comments:

In 1876, Whiting was appointed Professor of Physics at Wellesley and given two years to study instructional methods in physics and prepare to establish a physics department. [20A JG]

She visited MIT where the first undergraduate physics laboratory had been established. Whiting used what she saw there to establish a similar laboratory at Wellesley College. This may have been the second undergraduate teaching laboratory in America.

Later at the Harvard College Observatory she studied some of the then new applications of physics to astronomy, and introduced astronomy courses at WellesleyCollege in 1880.

For two decades she taught astronomy with only a celestial globe and a 4-inch portable telescope; then a Wellesley trustee by the name of Mrs. John C. Whitin enabled the building of a much needed observatory. The Whitin Observatory was built in 1900 and enlarged in 1906.

She wrote an account of the history of physics in Wellesley:"History of the Physics Department of Wellesley College from 1878 to 1912," (typewritten paper), Wellesley College Archives, Wellesley, MA [12 GKS]

Sarah Whiting supported prohibition.[7 MWR1]

Field Editor:

Frieda Stahl

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latest revision {4/30/97 mjw} 3/16/01 nb