science

Graham Sack: The Harvard Computers

The Harvard Computers is an original television series inspired by the true story of America’s first female astronomers. It was written by Graham Sack and executive produced by Jennifer 8. Lee, recipients of the 2021 Sundance Institute / Sloan Foundation Episodic Fellowship.

A live performance of the pilot episode was held at Pioneer Works on October 25th, starring Annabelle Dexter-Jones (Succession, The Deuce), Javier Muñoz (Hamilton, In The Heights), Max Jenkins (Special, Dead To Me, High Maintenance), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent), and Damian Young (Ozark, House of Cards). See below for a complete cast list.

The reading is followed by a talkback and Q&A with Graham Sack and Jennifer 8. Lee, moderated by Janna Levin, the Pioneer Works Director of Sciences.

The Harvard Computers storyline centers around Williamina Fleming, a twenty-one-year-old Scottish immigrant abandoned by her husband while pregnant after arriving in Boston. With nowhere to turn, Williamina takes a job as a maid in the home of brothers Edward and Henry Pickering, a pair of Harvard professors obsessed with discovering the secrets of the night sky—one through hard facts, the other through fanciful theories. Recognizing Williamina’s intelligence and frustrated by the complacency of his male graduate students, Edward hires her into the Harvard Observatory, where she assembles a group of unlikely scientists—working class women from Boston’s immigrant ghettos and the first graduates of America’s newly formed women’s colleges. Among them are Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Antonia Maury, and Annie Jump Cannon.

Uncelebrated in their lifetimes and dismissed by colleagues as “Pickering’s Harem,” the group remained resolute despite their fraught circumstances. Their labor over the successive years (1878-1919) established a beachhead for early women in science and led to enduring discoveries that proved foundational to 20th century astronomy.

Series development of The Harvard Computers has been generously supported by the Sundance Institute, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Science Sandbox of the Simons Foundation, and Pioneer Works.

FULL CAST:

Williamina Fleming | Annabelle Dexter-Jones

Edward Pickering | Javier Muñoz

Henry Pickering | Max Jenkins

Isabella | Daphne Rubin-Vega

Senator Cabot-Lodge | Damian Young

Mary Anna Draper | Lorrie Odom

James Fleming | Chris Stack

Lizzie Wadsworth Sparks | Layla Khoshnoudi

President Charles Eliot | Greig Sargeant

Nathaniel Cabot | Danny Flaherty

Christopher Piedmont | Davram Stiefler

August Winthrop | Chris Carfizzi

Stage Directions | Catherine Gowl

This project is supported by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, bridging the two cultures of science and the arts.

Read more, including bios: https://pioneerworks.org/programs/the-harvard-computers-staged-reading. ♦

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