McCormick Museum

Harold Lee Alden

Alden Harold Lee Alden was born in Chicago Illinois on January 10, 1890. He received Bachelors of Arts from Wheaton College in 1912, and went on to receive his Master's degree from the University of Chicago in 1913. He served as an assistant in photographic photometry program of the Yerkes Observatory 1912-1914.

Alden's association with the University of Virginia began in 1914 when he came as a graduate student in astronomy under Director Samuel A. Mitchell. He received a Vanderbilt fellowship for his first year of study, later becoming an instructor and receiving his PhD in 1917. He became an associate professor in 1924, but left the following year to become the director of Yale University's southern station in Johannesburg, South Africa. Alden spent twenty years at the Yale Observatory working on the long-focus refractor to determine parallaxes of southern stars. He also concerned himself with a study of the probable errors in the parallax plates taken in Johannesburg. Fellow astronomers attributed much of the Yale Observatory's success in this period to Alden's diligent leadership and dedication to accurate observation.

Alden (1946) Alden (seen left in 1946) returned to the University of Virginia in 1945 to succeed Mitchell as Professor of Astronomy, chairman of the Astronomy Department and Director of the Leander McCormick Observatory. The majority of Alden's work at Virginia, both before and after his term at the Yale Observatory, consisted of measurements of stellar parallaxes, proper motions and visual observations of long-period variable stars. He was best remembered for his published studies in long-focus photographic astrometry from both McCormick and Yale Observatories. He was vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and chairman of its section D (astronomy) in 1951. From 1952 to 1955, he served as the president of Commission 24, the Stellar Parallaxes section, of the International Astronomical Union.

Alden retired from his position at the University of Virginia on June 30, 1960. Upon his retirement he was made Professor Emeritus in view of his total service of twenty six years as fellow, instructor, and as assistant, associate and full professor. He died in Charlottesville on February 3, 1964, survived by his wife Mildred, three children and eleven grandchildren.