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Alfred Harrison Joy Papers: Finding Aid
mssJoy papers  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Access
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Materials in the Huntington Library
  • Indexing Terms

  • Overview of the Collection

    Title: Alfred Harrison Joy Papers
    Dates (inclusive): 1910-1972
    Collection Number: mssJoy papers
    Creator: Joy, Alfred H. (Alfred Harrison), 1882-1973.
    Extent: Approximately 2,150 items in 10 boxes
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Architecture Collections
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: (626) 405-2129
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: This collection consists of the professional papers of American astronomer Alfred Harrison Joy (1882-1973) and contains correspondence and research files related to Joy's study of stellar radial velocities, variable stars, T Tauri stars, and galactic structure. There is also an extensive amount of material related to Joy's involvement with the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in the collection.
    Language: English.


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.

    Administrative Information

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.
    There is no evidence that Joy passed on his literary rights to anyone. The Carnegie Observatories, as part of the 1987 letter of agreement, have given the Huntington Library the right to provide permission to publish from the papers.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Alfred Harrison Joy Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    Placed on permanent deposit in the Huntington Library by the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington Collection. This was done in 1989 as part of a letter of agreement (dated November 5, 1987) between the Huntington and the Carnegie Observatories. The papers have yet to be officially accessioned. Cataloging of the papers was completed in 1989 prior to their transfer to the Huntington.

    Biographical Note

    Alfred Harrison Joy was a distinguished stellar astronomer who spent most of his professional career at the Mount Wilson Observatory. His work on stellar radial velocities, variable stars, and galactic structure in the early twentieth century laid the groundwork for the rapidly expanding field of astrophysics. His pioneering work, his long tenure at Mount Wilson, his central roles in the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and American Astronomical Society, and his position as Secretary of the Observatory make him a significant figure in the history of astronomy.
    Alfred H. Joy was born in Greenville, Illinois, on September 23, 1882 to Frank and Louise (Maynard) Joy. Little is known of his early years, but it appears that Joy's mother passed on to her son a great love of science. When it was time for him to go to college, he went to a small local school, Greenville College, operated by the Free Methodist Church. He took his degree in 1903 in Latin and science, graduating in a class of seven. Joy then spent the next year at Oberlin College in Ohio, obtaining an M.A. in physics. His teacher at Oberlin was Charles E. St. John, who would later become his colleague at Mount Wilson.
    Upon receiving his M.A. in 1904, Joy immediately obtained a teaching position at the American University of Beirut. He was the instructor of physics at Beirut and this included teaching astronomy. Over the years, his abilities and interest in astronomy grew, helped by his participation in the 1905 Lick Observatory eclipse expedition in Egypt, the transit of Mercury, and observations of the 1910 apparition of Halley's comet. In 1909, Joy spent the summer in Oxford and Cambridge working on the Carte du Cielproject. In the summer of 1910, Joy worked as an assistant at the Yerkes Observatory. And in the 1910-11 academic year he obtained a Thaw fellowship to Princeton where he received valuable astronomy instruction from Henry Norris Russell. Joy's notebooks from Russell's classes are a valuable part of this collection (the "classes" were one-on-one instruction sessions with Russell at his Princeton home). This period, from 1909 to 1911, was crucial in shaping Joy's future astronomical interests.
    Joy returned to Beirut in 1911 where he had recently been appointed director of the Observatory. In 1914, he traveled to Potsdam, Germany, to continue his research interests. At Potsdam he came into contact with Karl Schwarzschild and Ejnar Hertzsprung, two important figures in the growing field of astrophysics. Joy then went to the Yerkes Observatory for a second time to help in their stellar parallax program. By 1915, however, the First World War was well underway and Joy found it impossible to get back to Beirut. Fortunately for him, he had come to the attention of George Ellery Hale at Mount Wilson, and Hale soon offered Joy a permanent position at Mount Wilson, a position he held until his retirement thirty-three years later in 1948.
    While Joy's first year at Mount Wilson saw work on solar matters, he soon became involved in the stellar spectroscopy work headed by Walter S. Adams. Earlier, Adams and Kohlsch|tter had learned how to accurately determine a star's spectral class and absolute luminosity. Using this information it became possible for them to calculate the distance to the star, a quantity referred to as its "spectroscopic parallax." Joy worked at deciphering numerous stellar spectra until, in 1935, Joy and Adams had published a catalogue of spectroscopic parallaxes of 4,179 stars.
    Joy soon became involved in the study of variable stars. Splitting the stars among three researchers at Mount Wilson, Joy worked on red semi-regular variable stars. One exception was the remarkable long-period M-type variable, Mira (omicron Ceti). Joy had a fondness for this famous star, perhaps due to his spectroscopic discovery of its faint companion star in 1920. Noting the odd spectrum, Joy had written to R. G. Aitken at Lick to see if he could visually observe the companion in their large refracting telescope. Aitken soon saw the faint star, thus confirming Joy's discovery. Joy also amassed a great deal of information on the W Virginis (Population II) Cepheids and RR Lyrae stars, material that has led to a greater understanding of our Galaxy.
    Joy's work on variable stars led to many new results which increased astronomers' understanding of these peculiar objects. He showed in 1933 that the emission lines in RW Tauri's spectrum were due to a small Saturn-like ring around the brighter primary star. Joy identified many spectroscopic binaries and initiated spectroscopic studies of dwarf novae.
    Another of Joy's important researches was his study of galactic rotation. From his earlier studies of the radial velocity of Cepheid variables, he collected a large sample of data and demonstrated that the Population I Cepheids constituted a low-velocity family of stars and was able to calculate the coordinates of the Galaxy's center.
    Perhaps Joy's most far-reaching work was that on the T Tauri stars. This came about because of his study of M-type dwarfs. Joy became acquainted with these latter stars during his work with Adams. As Joy became interested in the M dwarfs' habit of "flaring," he came across the unusual star UZ Tauri. This type of star, described by Joy as a T Tauri variable in 1945, later proved to be the transition between interstellar clouds and main-sequence stars.
    In 1919, Joy married Margherita O. Burns, a computer at the Observatory. The next year, he was appointed Secretary of the Observatory. In this new position, Joy was constantly in contact with the community and press regarding astronomical matters in general and happenings at the Mount Wilson Observatory in particular. Joy remained as Secretary, in addition to his other duties, until his retirement in 1948.
    Joy's most infamous feat was his unfortunate accident in 1946 at the age of sixty-four when he fell twenty feet from the Cassegrain platform of the 100-inch telescope to the cement floor. Breaking an arm, a leg, and his hip, Joy was hospitalized but with characteristic vigor, was back observing eight months later.
    A great deal of correspondence in the collection is with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Joy served in many capacities with this organization, being on its Board of Directors, President in 1931 and 1939, and from 1945 to 1968, editor of the Leaflets, a monthly issuance of small eight page reports for laymen and astronomers on new results in astronomy. In 1950, the Society presented Joy with its highest award, the Bruce Gold Medal. Joy was active in other organizations as well, particularly the American Astronomical Society, being its President from 1949 to 1952. In 1949, Joy was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1964 was named an Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society. In closing, perhaps the best description of Joy comes from his close friend George H. Herbig: "His scientific work was typical of the man himself: it was done quietly, patiently, with gentle humor, with great honesty and generosity. It was accomplished without fanfare, published without arrogance or pretence, and with recognition of the debt he owed to others. Joy was usually content simply to report what he had seen or done, in the conviction that speculation or over-interpretation is often evanescent, but that solid observations would inevitably survive."

    Scope and Content

    The collection consists of the professional papers of American astronomer Alfred Harrison Joy (1882-1973). It includes both incoming and copies of going correspondence (3 boxes) and research files (manuscripts, lectures, notebooks, etc.) related to Joy's study of stellar radial velocities, variable stars, T Tauri stars, and galactic structure.
    Correspondents include: Helmut A. Abt, Ansel Adams, Robert Grant Aitken, George Ellery Hale, George Howard Herbig, Helen Sawyer Hogg, Gerard Peter Kuiper, Willem Jacob Luyten, Beverly T. Lynds, Paul W. Merrill, Thornton Page, Miroslav Plavec, Frederick Hanley Seares, and Alexander N. Vyssotsky. There is also an extensive amount of material related to Joy's involvement with the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in the collection.
    Correspondence (Boxes 1-3)

    The correspondence includes both incoming letters and outgoing carbon copies. They are arranged in folders alphabetically by named correspondent or subject. The correspondence files are listed alphabetically according to the last name of the correspondent or, in some cases, to the first word of the subject heading. If a particular correspondent has less than three items associated with him or her, then these have been placed in the "Miscellaneous Correspondence" files at the end. In the list for each file is noted the correspondent's name, the years covered by the letters, the number of items in the file, and any extra comments are in brackets below each entry.
    Astronomical working papers (Boxes 4-6)

    The working papers are arranged in folders alphabetically according to their subject.
    Talks and papers (Box 7)

    These are arranged in folders chronologically according to when they were given or published. Undated items are placed at the end of the series.
    Society material (boxes 7-8)

    This series contains printed programs of conferences and minutes of meetings for the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The folders are arranged chronologically within each society.
    Photographs (Box 8)

    There are a few folders at the end of Box 8 which contain three dozen photographs, mainly of stellar spectra.
    Notebooks and reprints (Boxes 9-10)

    This series contains various record and note books. Included here are his notes from Henry Norris Russell's classes and a list of his published papers. Includes one volume of bound reprints published by Joy in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1917-1932)


    Organized in the following series: 1. Correspondence (Boxes 1-3), and 2. Manuscripts, notebooks and volumes, lectures, and research files (Boxes 4-10).

    Related Materials in the Huntington Library

    Approximately fifty additional separate collections form the Mount Wilson Papers of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and are available for research in the Manuscripts Department of the Huntington Library.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Huntington Library's Online Catalog.  


    Joy, Alfred H. (Alfred Harrison), 1882-1973 -- Archives.
    American Astronomical Society.
    Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
    Carnegie Institution of Washington.
    Mount Wilson Observatory -- History -- Sources.
    Astronomers -- California, Southern -- Archives.
    Astronomers -- Correspondence.
    Astronomy -- Research.
    Stars -- Motion in line of sight.
    T Tauri stars.
    Variable stars.


    Lectures -- 20th century.
    Letters (correspondence) -- 20th century.
    Manuscripts -- 20th century.
    Notebooks -- 20th century.
    Research (document genres) -- 20th century.

    Alternate Authors

    Abt, Helmut A.
    Adams, Ansel, 1902-1984.Abt, Helmut A.
    Aitken, Robert Grant, 1864-1951.Abt, Helmut A.
    Hale, George Ellery, 1868-1938.Abt, Helmut A.
    Herbig, G. H. (George H.)Abt, Helmut A.
    Hogg, Helen Sawyer, 1905-1993.Abt, Helmut A.
    Kuiper, Gerard P. (Gerard Peter), 1905-1973.Abt, Helmut A.
    Luyten, Willem Jacob, 1899-1994.Abt, Helmut A.
    Lynds, Beverly T.Abt, Helmut A.
    Merrill, Paul W. (Paul Willard), 1887-1961.Abt, Helmut A.
    Page, Thornton.Abt, Helmut A.
    Plavec, Miroslav.Abt, Helmut A.
    Seares, Frederick Hanley, 1873-1964.Abt, Helmut A.
    Vyssotsky, A. N. (Alexander N.), 1888-
    American Astronomical Society.
    Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
    Carnegie Institution of Washington.