Vesto Melvin Slipher
Vesto Melvin (V.M.) Slipher was a prominent astronomer who spent the entirety of his fifty-three year career at Lowell Observatory.
Slipher was born on November 11, 1875, in Mulberry, Indiana, to Daniel Clark and Hannah App Slipher. He was one of eleven children (nine surviving) and spent his formative years on the family farm in Frankfort, Indiana, where he learned the techniques of agriculture and animal care. He and his brother Earl Carl (E.C.) developed an early interest in astronomy in the hours not spent working the land.
Slipher attended high school in Frankfort and, after a brief stint teaching at a nearby country school, enrolled at Indiana University in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanics and Astronomy. Upon graduation in 1901, Percival Lowell offered him a temporary position at Lowell Observatory upon the recommendation of his former instructor at Indiana, Wilbur Cogshall.
Lowell wrote to Cogshall, “As regards Mr. Slipher, I shall be happy to have him come when he is ready. I have decided, however, that I shall not want another permanent assistant and take him only because I promised to do so and for the term suggested. What it was escapes my memory.”
Slipher must have proven himself worthy of the position, for he stayed on at Lowell through his advanced education, obtaining his Master’s and Ph.D. from Indiana University, and eventually became acting director and later director subsequent to Percival Lowell’s sudden death in 1916.
During his fifty-three years of service at Lowell, Slipher accrued many accolades and awards and came to be known as “a reserved, reticent, cautious man who shunned the public eye and rarely even attended astronomical meetings, often sending his papers for others to read. He consistently postponed publication of his discoveries until he had confirmed them to his own satisfaction, and some of his results were published by others to whom he communicated them in his correspondence.” (from A Biographical Memoir by William Graves Hoyt)
Slipher made his home in Flagstaff along with his wife, Emma Rosalie Munger of Indiana. They had two children, Marcia Frances and David Clark. He was not only an accomplished astronomer, but also an astute businessman and prominent member of the Flagstaff community.
Slipher passed away on November 8, 1969, three days shy of his 94th birthday. He is interred at the Citizens Cemetery in Flagstaff.