FYI November 15, 2019

On This Day

1806 – Pike expedition: Lieutenant Zebulon Pike sees a distant mountain peak while near the Colorado foothills of the Rocky Mountains. (It is later named Pikes Peak.)
The Pike Expedition (July 15, 1806 – July 1, 1807) was a military party sent out by President Thomas Jefferson and authorized by the United States government to explore the south and west of the recent Louisiana Purchase.[1] Roughly contemporaneous with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it was led by United States Army Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, Jr. who was promoted to captain during the trip. It was the first official American effort to explore the western Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado. Pike contacted several Native American tribes during his travels and informed them of the new US rule over the territory. The expedition documented the United States’ discovery of Pikes Peak. After splitting up his men, Pike led the larger contingent to find the headwaters of the Red River. A smaller group returned safely to the US Army fort in St. Louis, Missouri before winter set in.

Pike’s company made several errors and ended up in Spanish territory in present-day Southern Colorado, where the Americans built a fort to survive the winter. Captured by the Spanish and taken into Mexico in February, their travels through present-day New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas provided Pike with important data about Spanish military strength and civilian populations. Although he and most of his men were released because the nations were not at war, some of his soldiers were held in Mexican prisons for years, despite US objections. In 1810, Pike published an account of his expeditions, which was so popular that it was translated into French, German, and Dutch for publication in Europe.



Born On This Day

1849 – Mary E. Byrd, American astronomer and educator (d. 1934)
Mary Emma Byrd (November 15, 1849 – July 13, 1934) was an American educator and is considered a pioneer astronomy teacher[1] at college level.[2] She was also an astronomer in her own right, determining cometary positions by photography.[3]

Personal life

Mary E. Byrd was born November 15, 1849 in Le Roy, Michigan to the reverend John Huntington Byrd and Elizabeth Adelaide Lowe as the second of six children.[4] The family moved to Kansas in 1855. Her father was strongly opposed to slavery and the slave trade. Her mother was a descendant of John Endecott. Her parents instilled in her a strong Puritan belief, making her a person of high moral principles. Her uncle, David Lowe, a Kansas judge, who served for one term in Congress, refused to seek re-election because he found “politics and ideal honesty incompatible”. She died of cerebral hemorrhage on July 13, 1934 in Lawrence, Kansas and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.[5]

In the late 19th century it was very difficult for a young woman to get a decent education.[6] This was no different for Mary Byrd and this is reflected in her education. She was a teacher, on and off, while trying to get an education. Byrd graduated from Leavenworth High School. She attended Oberlin College from 1871-1874, when John Millott Ellis was the college president. She left Oberlin before graduating. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in 1878. She studied under Edward Pickering at Harvard College Observatory. She received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Carleton College in 1904.

Byrd was one of a group of young women who were the pioneers of coeducation. Most notable in this group was probably Alice Freeman Palmer. She worked briefly at The Coast Star in Manasquan, NJ prior to her death.


Mary Emma Byrd held many teaching posts. The most important:

1883-1887 Teacher of mathematics and astronomy at Carleton College
1887-1906 Director of the observatory at Smith College[7] in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In 1906, Byrd, at the height of her career, resigned from her positions at Smith[8] because the college accepted money from Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, which she found reprehensible. Upon her resignation, she returned to Lawrence, Kansas. She continued writing, and contributed many articles to Popular Astronomy magazine.

During her life Byrd was a member of:

the Astronomical and Astrophysical Society of America (now the American Astronomical Society or simply AAS),
the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
the British Astronomical Association
the Anti-Imperialist League of Northampton
The American Mathematical Society (Ref. New York Mathematical Society list of members June 1892, page 6.

Mary Emma Bird has written two books:

Laboratory Manual in Astronomy which was published in 1899 and is currently available as a reprint by BiblioLife, ISBN 978-1-110-12258-5
First Observations In Astronomy: A Handbook For Schools And Colleges which was published in 1913 and is currently available as a reprint by Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 0-548-62274-4

Further reading

Bailey, Martha J. ; “Byrd, Mary Emma (1849–1934), astronomer”. In American women in science, a biographical dictionary. Santa Barbara, Calif., ABC-CLIO, 1994. p. 46.; 1994
Leonard, John William, editor-in-chief; “Byrd, Mary Emma”. In Woman’s who’s who of America. A biographical dictionary of contemporary women of the United States and Canada. 1914-1915; New York, American Commonwealth Co.; p. 152.; 1914



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