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Jennie Lasby-Tessmann

A Woman of the Stars

Jennie Tessman

Science: The systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Science is like a canopy of stars in the night sky, this massive blanket of ideas, concepts and subjects, the universe that we all live in. This is most likely the way Jennie Lasby - Tessmann saw the world.

Jennie Lasby was born in 23, August 1882 in Castle Rock, Minnesota. She attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota an institution well known for its astronomy department. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Science in 1904. This led to Jennie being the recipient of an assistantship at Mt. Holyoke University and it is here where she received her Masters Degree in Astronomy in 1908.

With her parents moving to Santa Ana in search of a fairer climate, Jennie arrived at Mt. Wilson observatory in Pasadena, California in the fall of 1906 as the first female scientist to work at Mt. Wilson as a research assistant. While working at the observatory she would be working with Dr. George E. Hale and Albert Einstein as well as other luminaries in the physics and astronomy fields. She would work at Mt. Wilson from 1906 to 1913, it was during this time that she regularly published articles about her studies in spectroscopy and solar observation, in 1911 she co-wrote a study theorizing the rotation of the sun With Dr. Hale as well as another study with the future director of the observatory, Walter Adams. Itn was During this time she also was offered positions working at the University of Chicago and with noted astronomer J.C. Kapteyn in Germany. .

In 1914 Jennie was invited to travel to Potsdam, Germany, by J.C. Kapteyn, in order to conduct spectroscopic work, which involved studying how a visible wavelength of light was dispersed through a prism. Today spectroscopy involves studying the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. With the break out of WWI she had to move her operations to the United Kingdom and spent several months there in 1915. She would return to the United States in late 1915, where she would work as a research assistant at her alma mater, Carleton College in Minnesota, she would later become a teacher there to fill the space of a male staff who had answered the call to war.

In 1918, with the war’s end brought Jennie back to Southern California where she lived with her parents in Santa Ana, CA. By 1919 she became a teacher at the 4 year old Santa Ana Junior College on the campus of Santa Ana High School. She would teach astronomy and history. Her work continued with spectroscopy here in Santa Ana and Jennie is the woman responsible for bringing the astronomy and spectroscopy to Santa Ana, as she was the technical advisor and driving force behind the only private observatory in Orange County in 1923, the Bishop (named for owner Clyde Bishop, a Santa Ana attorney) Observatory in Lemon Heights was equipped with an 8- inch Alvin Clark refractor, it was motor driven and top of the line! Jennie was able to bring JaySee students to the observatory in order to teach them the newest in spectroscopy, with the death of Clyde Bishop in October of 1927, the observatory would eventually be bequeathed to Santa Ana Junior College in the 1930s.

Jennie would teach astronomy and history at Santa Ana Junior College for 27 years from 1919 to 1946, thousands of young minds passed through her class doors, a number of her students became so enthralled with the subjects that some constructed their own telescopes.

In the December of 1939 issue of Western Woman Jennie said “ Astronomy, as it is understood and applied today, affects all other branches of learning - philosophy, religion, physics, chemistry - through it all phases of human thinking have been revolutionized.”

While also being a prominent educator, Jennie Lasby was a highly regarded civic figure in Santa Ana and greater Orange County, she gave many presentations throughout the county on various subjects, she ran the book club and poetry sections of the Ebell Club here in Santa Ana for several decades, in 1940 with WWII on the horizon, Jennie was sent to Washington, D.C. as a representative of the women of Orange County to appear at a summit about America’s role in the conflict. In 1942 she was the first woman, along with two friends from Santa Ana, to traverse the Alaska Highway. Jennie Lasby was as intrepid as she was educated.

Tessmann Planetarium at Santa Ana College is named in her honor and serves a marker of of this woman’s career and love of teaching. A truly lasting legacy towards women in science.

Jennie Tessman a woman pioneer in so many ways, a woman of Santa Ana, a woman of the world.


“She has shown us worlds beyond our own realm, and therefore has helped us reach for greater understanding.” - Words of dedication in the 1946 Santa Ana Junior College Del Año

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