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Nancy Grace Roman Papers, 1931-1993 (bulk 1950-1980)

Description of Collection


American Institute of Physics. Center for History of Physics.

College Park, MD 20740

Papers created by

Roman, Nancy Grace, 1925-

Size of collection

4.5 linear feet in 9 boxes

Short description of collection

This collection documents the career of astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, who specialized in spectroscopy. Roman served at the University of Chicago, Naval Research Laboratory, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The collection is composed of newspaper clippings, correspondence and some of Nancy Grace Roman's writings. It also includes educational records, notebooks, awards, certificates, research notes, travel itineraries, autograph books, personnel records, programs, and writings by others.

Language(s) of collection


Biography of Nancy Grace Roman

Nancy Grace Roman was born in Nashville, Tennessee on May 16, 1925. Her mother, Georgia Smith Roman, was a former music teacher and her father, Irwin Roman was a geophysicist. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1946 and her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Chicago in 1949.

After receiving her Ph.D., Nancy Grace Roman remained at the University of Chicago as a research associate, and later, as an assistant professor. In 1955 she took a position as an astronomer with the Radio Astronomy Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory. She was the head of the Microwave Spectroscopy Section when, in 1959, she left NRL to become the head of the observational astronomical program at NASA. Dr. Roman remained at NASA, serving as Chief of the Astronomy and Relativity Programs in the Office of Space Sciences from 1960, until her retirement in 1979.

The high ranking position Nancy Grace Roman held, at a time when it was unusual for women to have such responsibility, is a strong indication of her knowledge and abilities. Because of her achievements in a field dominated by men, Dr. Roman has become a role model for young women.

Dr. Roman has been an active public speaker, presenting talks to university students as well as civic and professional groups. Topics discussed are not limited to science, but also the role of women within science. In 1963, she defended NASA's lack of women astronauts by citing the important contributions women were making to the space program in other ways.

Dr. Roman is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 1962 Federal Woman's Award and NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award in 1969.

In a 1980 interview (at the AIP) Nancy Grace Roman credited the clear skies of Nevada and her mother for introducing her to the constellations. Dr. Roman also said she made the decision to become an astronomer very early in life.

A biographical entry from the American Men and Women of Science follows. Dr. Roman is unmarried and, at the time of this writing, resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Scope and Contents of Collection

This collection, spanning over 60 years, documents events in Nancy Grace Roman's life ranging in scope from her elementary school days, through her college and early professional career, to her high ranking position at NASA and beyond. The collection is composed of newspaper clippings, correspondence and some of Nancy Grace Roman's writings. It also includes educational records, notebooks, awards, certificates, research notes, travel itineraries, autograph books, personnel records, programs, and writings by others.

The collection is primarily biographical in content. The bulk of the newspaper clippings and correspondence relate to Nancy Grace Roman's achievements and serve to document the highlights of her career and her unique position (at that time) as a female Division Chief at NASA.

Professional files include some correspondence, notes, and reports on research she performed during successive positions at University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory, Naval Research Laboratory and NASA. In addition, some professional papers can be found in Series IV: Writings. However, the amount of primary material (correspondence, notebooks, etc.) documenting Nancy Grace Roman's professional activities is small.

Restrictions on Use and Access

Open to approved researchers without restrictions.

Use of primary source material in the Niels Bohr Library requires prior approval through an Application for Access, which includes a statement of research purpose and the names and addresses of two scholars as references. Access applications can be obtained by contacting the Library (telephone 301-209-3177; or e-mail The application can also be printed from our website.

Selected Search Terms

These papers have been indexed in the International Catalog of Sources for History of Physics and Allied Sciences (ICOS) using the following terms. Those seeking related materials should search under these terms.


Roman, Georgia Smith.
Roman, Irwin.


Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.)
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
University of Chicago.
Yerkes Observatory.

Subject terms

Women in aeronautics.
Women in astronomy.

Genre terms


Organization of Collection

The collection has been organized in four series: I: Personal and Biographical, subseries A-C as follows: A. Education; B. Awards and Honors; C: Newsclippings; II: Correspondence; III: Professional Files; IV: Writings.

Arrangement of Collection

In most cases, material is arranged chronologically within the series and subseries. The papers have been arranged with the intention of stressing the various phases of Nancy Grace Roman's education and career.

There was no obvious "original order" to follow in organizing the papers, with the exception of chronological folders created for "scrapbook" material. Therefore, the papers have been arranged and the series devised by the processor.

Material Separated from Collection

Some material was separated from the original collection for reasons of preservation and access. Items separated from the original collection:

  • Fifty-four photographs accessioned with the original collection have been removed to the AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives. Photocopies of the prints remain with the papers (Box 8).
  • Miscellaneous biographical material on Charlotte Moore (Sitterly) and Laurence W. Frederick and others have been added to the Library's L8/N8 (biographical) files.
  • Informational pamphlets from The Hale Observatories, The University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory, The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and NASA Wallops Flight Center have been added to the Library's Institutional History files.

Provenance and Acquisition Information

This collection contains papers donated to the AIP Niels Bohr Library by Nancy Grace Roman. Five records cartons of material were transferred from Nancy Grace Roman's home to the Library in May 1994.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Theresa L. Keifer in April 1995.

In general, the collection was disorganized; different types and dates of material were interspersed throughout the five boxes. Some of the material in the collection appears to have been selected with the intention of creating a scrapbook. Several original folders were dated by year. Many of these folders (and the items within them) had been marked with the note "for NG's scrapbook" or just the word scrapbook.

Although the collection required extensive reorganization because of the lack of original order, files that were obviously related have been kept together. For example, the "scrapbook" folders mentioned above form the basis of the Newsclippings subseries.

Researchers should be aware that there is often crossover between the series and that all series should be reviewed for relevant information. For example, information on Dr. Roman's involvement with NASA projects can be found in both the Professional Files and Personal and Biographical series.

Related Collections

Niels Bohr Library, American Institute of Physics:

  • Nancy Grace Roman Oral History Interview, 1980
  • Irwin Roman Papers (unprocessed as of April 1995)

Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, American Institute of Physics:

  • Nancy Grace Roman Photograph Collection

NASA History Office:

  • Records created while at NASA (inventory in Niels Bohr Library)

Administrative Information


Finding Aid to the Nancy Grace Roman Papers, 1931-1993 (bulk 1950-1980)


This finding aid has been encoded by the Center for History of Physics, American Institute of Physics as part of a collaborative project supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, an independent federal agency. Collaboration members in 1999 consisted of: American Institute of Physics, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Rice University, University of Alaska, University of Illinois, and University of Texas.


American Institute of Physics.
Center for History of Physics.

One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740

Published in 2000

Encoding Information

Machine-readable finding aid encoded in EAD v.1.0 by Clay Redding on November 27, 2000 from an existing finding aid using NoteTab Pro and C++ scripts created by James P. Tranowski (provided by Elizabeth Dow, Special Collections, University of Vermont). Any revisions made to this finding aid occurred as part of the editing and encoding process. Reviewed by K. Hayes on November 27, 2000 .

Series Descriptions

I: Personal and Biographical

Boxes 1-3

Arranged chronologically.

This series, containing educational records, newspaper clippings, articles, correspondence, invitations and programs is divided into three subseries:

A. Education

Contains report cards, transcripts, diplomas, letters of commendation, notebooks and other materials from Nancy Grace Roman's primary and secondary school years, through her college years at Swarthmore and University of Chicago.

B. Awards and Honors

Contains newspaper clippings, citations and correspondence documenting awards and honors bestowed upon Nancy Grace Roman throughout her career. In some cases, as in the Federal Woman's Award (removed to oversize Box 8), the award itself is present. General awards include the 1962 honor of being declared one of Life magazine's "100 most important men and women in the U.S." and the 1986 honor of having a minor planet named for her. Box 2 Folder 12 contains information on Nancy Grace Roman's receipt of Honorary Degrees from three universities. Box 2 Folder 13 documents receipt of the previously mentioned 1962 Federal Woman's Award. Nancy Grace Roman's interest in the Federal Woman's Award program continued after 1962, and Box 2 Folders 14-15 contain invitations, programs and correspondence regarding the FWA spanning the years 1963-1976. In addition, directories and correspondence for the Association of Federal Woman's Award Recipients (AFWAR) can be found in Box 2 Folder 16.

C. Newsclippings

Spanning the years 1921-1993 include newspaper clippings and magazine articles documenting events in Nancy Grace Roman's professional and personal life. Many of the articles and clippings are feature stories that describe the role of a "woman in space". Newsclippings of NASA projects are also included, most notably the Orbiting Solar Observatory and the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, of which Nancy Grace Roman was the team leader. Also included in these files are programs and other miscellaneous material from meetings, seminars events, etc. in which Dr. Roman participated.

Series II: Correspondence

Box 4

Arranged chronologically.

This series includes personal and professional correspondence and invitations dating from 1935-1993. Undated correspondence can be found in the last folder. In addition to correspondence to and from Nancy Grace Roman directly, this series also includes correspondence addressed to Dr. Roman's parents.

Series III: Professional Files

Boxes 5-6

Arranged chronologically.

This series includes job offers, applications, personnel actions, performance reviews, certificates, etc. documenting Nancy Grace Roman's positions at University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory, Naval Research Laboratory, NASA and ORI, Inc. (for whom she did consultant work after her retirement). In addition, research files containing correspondence and notes on projects such as Nebular Counts, High Velocity Stars and Eclipsing Binaries have been kept intact as originally received. Also included is an Astronomy 101 text by Nancy Grace Roman written for the Yerkes Observatory Home-Study Program. Box 5 Folder 14 contains publications produced by NASA for both employees and the public. The NASA professional files are also a source of biographical information.

Material relating to professional travel can be found in Box 6 Folders 16-19. This includes itineraries, notes and newsclippings on Dr. Roman's 1956 trip to Russia to attend the Symposium on Non-Stable Stars. Papers written by Dr. Roman as a result of this trip can be found in Box 7 Folders 2-3.

Series IV: Writings

Boxes 7-8

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains carbon copies, originals, and reprints of professional papers, produced by Nancy Grace Roman throughout her professional career. In addition, it contains programs, correspondence and newsclippings describing Dr. Roman's numerous speaking engagements for university students and civic and professional groups. Where available, the papers presented during these engagements are also included. A bibliography of her published work spanning the dates 1947-1993 can be found in Box 7 Folder 1.

This series includes "Writings by Others" (Box 8 Folder 13) which contains reprints and manuscripts by others on astronomical subjects. Authors include William P. Bidelman, Louis C. Green, Owen Gingerich and Su-shu Huang.

Container List

Series I: Personal and Biographical

Subseries A: Education

Box 1 Folders 1-5 Education - Elementary and Junior High School (1931-40)
Folder 6 Education - High School (1941-43)
Folders 7-8 Education - Swarthmore (1942-46)
Folder 9 Education - University of Chicago (1945-46)

Subseries B: Awards and Honors

Box 1 Folder 10 Awards and Honors - General (1960-69)
Folder 11 Awards and Honors - General (1970-91)
Box 2 Folder 12 Awards and Honors - Honorary Degrees (1966-76)
Folder 13 Awards and Honors - Federal Woman's Award (1961-62)
Folder 14 Awards and Honors - Federal Woman's Award (1963-68)
Folder 15 Awards and Honors - Federal Woman's Award (1970-76)
Folder 16 Awards and Honors - Association of Federal Woman's Award Recipients (AFWAR) (1973-76)

Subseries C: Newsclippings

Box 2 Folder 17 Newsclippings (1921-58)
Folder 18 Newsclippings (1959)
Folder 19 Newsclippings (1960-61)
Folder 20 Newsclippings (1962)
Box 3 Folder 21 Newsclippings (1963-69)
Folder 22 Newsclippings (1970-75)
Folder 23 Newsclippings (1976-93)
Folder 24 Newsclippings (undated)

Series II: Correspondence

Box 4 Folder 1 1935-39
Folder 2 1947-54
Folder 3 1955-57
Folder 4 1958-60
Folder 5 1961-64
Folder 6 1965-70
Folder 7 1971-75
Folder 8 1976-82
Folder 9 1983
Folder 10 1984-93
Folder 11 undated

Series III: Professional Files

Box 5 Folder 1 University of Chicago, Yerkes Observatory (1949-56)
Folder 2 Research - Star Count Papers (1949)
Folder 3 Research - Nebular Counts (1950-52)
Folder 4 Research - High Velocity Stars (1951-57)
Folder 5 Research - Peculiar A Stars (1952)
Folder 6 Research - Teaching Materials (1952)
Folder 7 Research - Miscellaneous (undated)
Folder 8 Naval Research Laboratory (1954-59)
Folder 9 Research - Coordinate Systems; Progress Reports (1955-57)
Folder 10 Research - Eclipsing Binaries (1955-56)
Folder 11 NASA (1959-71)
Folder 12 NASA (1972-84)
Folder 13 Research (1962-72)
Folder 14 NASA Publications (1963,1967,1983)
Box 6 Folder 15 ORI, Inc. (1985; undated)
Folder 16 Travel (1958-74; undated)
Folders 17-19 Symposium on Non-Stable Stars, Russia (1956)

Series IV: Writings

Box 7 Folder 1 Early Writings (1938)
Folder 2 Papers and Presentations (1955-56)
Folder 3 Papers and Presentations (1957)
Folder 4 Papers and Presentations (1958-61)
Folder 5 Papers and Presentations (1962)
Folder 6 Papers and Presentations (1963)
Folder 7 Papers and Presentations (1964)
Folder 8 Papers and Presentations (1965)
Folder 9 Papers and Presentations (1966-69)
Folder 10 Papers and Presentations (1970-74)
Folder 11 Papers and Presentations (1975-79)
Box 8 Folder 12 Papers and Presentations (1980-87)
Folder 13 Writings by Others (1947-89)
Nancy Grace Roman Photo Collection (photocopies)

Oversize Materials

Box 9 Federal Woman's Award and Citation (with bound cover) (1962)
NASA Bicentennial Observance Committee Certificate (1976)
Lecture Announcement - Boyce Campus (1980)