Saturday, January 19, 2019 at 1 pm
Presenter: Amy Sohn
"The Story of SWG Member Dorothy Agnes Bennett"
Born in Minneapolis in 1909, Dorothy Agnes Bennett graduated from University of Minnesota in 1930. After moving to New York, she was hired by the American Museum of Natural History as a staff assistant in the department of education. While at the museum Dorothy took over the Junior Astronomy Club, and it thrived under her leadership. Among her many illustrious students was Roy J. Glauber, who became a theoretical physicist and won a Nobel Prize in 2005. Dorothy co-authored an introduction to astronomy for young readers in 1935, Handbook of the Heavens, which stayed in print for over 40 years. She had the royalties of the book go toward the Junior Astronomy Club. She also designed a planisphere called The Star Explorer.
When construction on the Hayden Planetarium opened in 1935, Dorothy became an assistant curator of astronomy. She would deliver more than 1,000 lectures there. She gave radio addresses for children, wrote articles for the newsletter of the Amateur Astronomers Association, The Sky, and attended professional conferences, such as those of the American Astronomical Society. In June 1937 she organized an expedition to Cerro de Pasco, Peru, to view a solar eclipse that would be the longest in duration until 2004.
In the late 1930s she and two women friends bought and renovated a barge in Brooklyn's then-dangerous Gowanus Canal. They had it towed to the Sands Point Yacht Club on Long Island, where they used it as a houseboat for three summers.
She left the museum in 1939 and took a job at University of Minnesota Press, where she worked on The Doctors Mayo and the Minnesota Multi-phasic Personality Schedule. In 1943 she returned to New York, met a man named George Duplaix, and with him formed a company called Little Golden Books, which went on to become a blockbuster children's-book publisher. She wrote two books herself, The Golden Almanac (1944) and The Golden Encyclopedia (1946). In the mid-fifties she went to the American University of Beirut and London, where she took one of the last archeology courses taught by V. Gordon Childe at the Institute of Archaeology. In one of her classes she met a future child psychologist named Rosamund Gardner. During the 1960s Dorothy helped launch a program teaching cultural diversity to the Berkeley Unified School District. Called EPOCH, it was a multimedia, interdisciplinary course involving slides, figurines, a library, sound, and film. EPOCH was the end of Dorothy’s professional life, but she told friends she earned royalties off of The Star Explorer until the 1970s. Dorothy and Rosamund eventually retired to Taos, New Mexico, and Dorothy died there in 1999. She was 89 years old.
Amy Sohn is the author of five novels, including Prospect Park West and The Actress. She has written for publications including the New York Times, JSTOR Daily, Elle, The Nation, and New York magazine. She is at work on a non-fiction book for Farrar, Straus & Giroux on women's rights activists of the 19th century. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.