A $60,000 gift to the University of Arizona 100 years ago started Tucson and Southern Arizona on the path to world prominence in astronomy and related sciences. That legacy is about to be celebrated.
Lavinia Steward of Oracle made the gift to the UA in 1916 in her late husband’s memory. It was the university’s largest private gift up to that point, and Steward Observatory was named after them.
World War I delayed construction of the facility, designed by astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass. The building was completed in 1922 and dedicated in 1923.
Douglass founded the science of dendrochronology, or the study of tree rings, and served as an interim UA president. He inaugurated "Public Evenings" at Steward in the fall of 1922. The events – with lectures by astronomers and telescope viewings of the night sky– have been held continuously since then, except during World War II, 1942-1945.
UA astronomer Thomas Fleming said over the years, Steward has attracted scientists who, like Douglass, branched off into new areas of discovery, including planetary science and optical science.
The Oct. 17 Public Evening is dedicated to Lavinia Steward's gift. "Focusing the Universe" – the story of Steward Observatory produced by Michael Mulcahy and Peter Beudert of the UA's School of Theatre, Film and Television - will be premiered, followed by a panel discussion. The evening will conclude with viewing time on the observatory's Raymond E. White 21-inch telescope in the white-domed building.
Watch a video below produced by UA astronomy undergraduate Jenny Calahan singing about Steward Observatory.