Vera Rubin was born Vera Florence Cooper, on July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the younger of two sisters. Her parents were Jewish immigrants: Philip Cooper, an electrical engineer at Bell Telephone, and Rose Applebaum Cooper who worked at Bell until their marriage.
The Coopers moved to Washington D. C. in 1938. Vera, at age 10 watching stars from her window, developed an interest in astronomy. “Even then, I was more interested in the question than in the answer.” She decided at an early age that we inhabit a very curious world.
Vera graduated from high school in 1944. She was inspired to pursue her undergraduate education at Vassar College – then an all-women’s school – because Maria Mitchell had been a professor there. She earned her bachelor’s degree in astronomy in 1948, the only graduate in astronomy that year, despite being advised to avoid a scientific career.
Vera Rubin married Robert Rubin in 1948. They remained together until Robert passed away in 2008.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she attempted to enroll in a graduate program at Princeton, but was barred due to her gender. She enrolled at Cornell University and worked with astronomer Martha Carpenter on galactic dynamics, and studied under Philip Morrison, Hans Bethe, and Richard Feynman. (What a group to study under!) She earned a master’s degree in 1951. She became a mother during her graduate studies at Cornell, and continued to work on her research while raising her young