London and New York: Cassell and Company, 1924. First edition. Original publisher's pictorial cloth binding with gilt to spine and front board. An exceptionally pretty book that is square, tight, and clean, with the exception of some spotting to pages 125-137. Contemporary gift inscription on the front endpaper, "K. K. Belleness Xmas 1924." Complete, including frontis and 8 plates. With OCLC reporting only 15 copies in the U.S., no appearance in the modern auction record, and no others on the market, this important work on popular astronomy has become quite scarce.
For her deep love of the stars, Mary Proctor credited her father, the famous astronomer Richard Proctor, and Caroline Herschel, the first woman to present an astronomy paper at the Royal Society. At an early age, she began writing articles for the popular science periodical Knowledge under the pen name Stella Occidens, and by 1893 she began using her own name to speak and publish work on astronomy. Renowned for her conversational lectures, she was most comfortable delivering talks without the use of notes, relying instead on her expertise in the work of her father and her desire to make that complex information accessible and interesting to non-specialist audiences. A degree from Columbia University added to her credentials and increased her interest in speaking; a year later, in 1898 she was elected a member of the American Association of Astronomical Studies (ODNB). "By 1901 she had delivered nearly 500 lectures, and she has been identified as one of 288 professional lecturers on the Lyceum circuit in the US -- one of just 23 women (8%) and the only woman on the list who lectured on astronomy" (Prosser). The present work, Evenings with the Stars, was part of Proctor's project of encouraging people to find opportunities in daily life for understanding the movement of stars. "This book is specifically written for those who have not made study of astronomy, but who may wish to know something about the stars -- when and where to look for them in the sky, the origin of their names, and a few facts of interest concerning them from an observer's standpoint...The idea is to stimulate a desire to know more about a subject which fascinated the great Herschel, who first adopted it merely as a hobby, as to lead to becoming one of the greatest pioneers of this science which the world has ever known." To this end, Proctor blended her engaging and conversational tone with references to the humanities (including poetry from the likes of Milton and Tennyson) with charts, diagrams, and illustrations from some of the most powerful telescopes of the time. An important work in its time, Evenings with the Stars can teach us much today about making scientific fields welcoming to a more diverse population, and encouraging a broader range of children to become curious and grow into the field. Fine (Item #2637)