Born Fitchburg, Massachusetts, USA, 5 July 1888
Died New Haven, Connecticut, USA, 9 May 1970
American astrometrist Louise Jenkins compiled a valuable catalog of stars within 10 parsecs of the Sun and edited the third edition of the Yale Bright Star Catalogue. Only 12 of the nearby stars are brighter than V = 6.5.
Jenkins attended Mount Holyoke College where she studied under Professor Anne Young , earning her AB in 1911 and MA in 1917. Meanwhile, she was appointed as assistant in astronomy at Mount Holyoke, 1911–1913; computer at Allegheny Observatory, 1913–1915 (where Frank Schlesinger was then director); and instructor at Mount Holyoke, 1915–1920. From 1917 to 1920 Jenkins observed sunspots at the Mount Holyoke telescope, reporting her observations in Popular Astronomy. In 1919 she joined the American Association of Variable Star Observers [AAVSO]. With Young in 1920, Jenkins determined the proper motions of some 34 variable stars.
From 1920 to 1932 Jenkins was a member of the Women’s American Baptist for Missionaries Society. In 1920 she went as missionary to Japan, where she taught English and Bible at the Women’s Christian College. Before she left for Japan, AAVSO member Charles Elmer (of Perkin-Elmer Corporation, telescope makers) loaned her a 3-in. telescope that she used for educating the students under her care, as well as for observing variable stars. Jenkins is reputed to have been the first woman to observe variable stars from Japan, making 164 observations reported to the AAVSO in 1921–1923. Unfortunately, she experienced the Japanese earthquake of 1923, in which the telescope was destroyed. Jenkins organized an amateur astronomy club in Japan and arranged for the members to visit the Tokyo Observatory once a month. In 1925 she returned to the United States after her father died but went back to Japan to teach at a girls’ high school and other schools (1926–1932). Jenkins enjoyed teaching and was well liked by her students.
Upon again returning to the United States, Jenkins was employed at the Yale Observatory by director Frank Schlesinger who remembered her good work at Allegheny Observatory. She was an assistant (1932–1938), secretary of the department (1938–1947), and assistant editor of the Astronomical Journal (1942–1958). Jenkins played a significant role in the determination of stellar parallaxes and in the compilation of numerous catalogs, coauthoring with Schlesinger, the second edition of the Yale Catalogue of Bright Stars in 1940, and the second edition of the General Catalogue of Stellar Parallaxes in 1935. The third edition of the latter (in 1952 with supplement in 1963) was compiled entirely by Jenkins. Schlesinger’s first publication of parallaxes determined under his direction at Yale, The Trigonometric Parallaxes of 851 Stars (1936), contained 41 parallaxes determined by Jenkins, who is also credited with the preparation for the press of the entire 232-page compilation from ten participants. In all, through 1962, over 350 parallaxes were determined by Jenkins or under her direction for stars photographed at Yale’s southern station in Johannesburg, South Africa. She also made a valuable compilation in 1938 of 127 stars whose parallaxes indicated that they are within 10 parsecs of the Sun; of these, 48 are bright stars (6.5 V or brighter).
In 1957 Jenkins paid her final visit to Japan, attending missionary meetings in Tokyo and Karuizawa. On 3 October 1957, she visited the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory a day before the launching of the first Soviet artificial satellite. Then, at the International Christian University, Jenkins happened to fall and break a leg, precluding other planned visits. Hospitalized for a full month and still in a wheel chair, she decided to fly back home.
Before long, Jenkins was back at Yale doing volunteer work in her favorite field, the determination of stellar parallaxes, through 1968. She died in a retirement home, having kept up correspondence with her Japanese colleagues and friends through January 1970.