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AAVSO Director Margaret Mayall (left) talks with Administrative Assistant, Helen Stephanski (right) in 1953

Q: I am looking for information on Margaret Walton of Iron Hill?

— Corrine Vanicky

A: This young lady became an acclaimed astronomer with an international following, this taking place in an era when women were not expected to become professional researchers. But the girl who grew up in Iron Hill rose through the ranks of the discipline, leading the American Association of Variable Star Observers and doing significant published research at Harvard, which brought international acclaim for her work.

Margaret Walton was born in Iron Hill on January 27, 1902. Of the place where her father operated the general store, she said in an oral history.

“It is not even a town, just a country place halfway between North and south . . . . I was from just south of the Mason Dixon Line, almost on it.” When the interviewer asked when she became interested in the stars, she recalled:

“Well, a slight interest of course from Halley’s Comet, that was around 1910. My father got me up in the early morning and we went out and watched it. He was always interested in nature. I don’t think, in fact, I’m sure he didn’t know too much about astronomy although he recognized constellations and knew something of the stars and the weather and was always very much interested. But I didn’t have any definite interest until I got to college, and I was taking math as a junior at the University of Delaware. First, I did go to high school in Maryland, in a very large class of 13 graduating, when I graduated.”

After attending the University of Delaware, she moved to Swarthmore College as her interest in astronomy grew. She started working at Harvard Observatory with Annie J. Cannon of Delaware and other women doing research in the discipline. The scientist married Newton Mayall, becoming Margaret Walton Mayall. The internationally acclaimed astronomer died in 1995, at the age of 93, according to the American Astronomical Society.

— Mike Dixon

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