While the observatory at Carleton was bringing publicity and respect to the school, while it served the public, housed significant research, and published the work of the discipline, its main Purpose had always been the instruction of undergraduate students.
In his annual report for 1881, Payne had noted what would be true for the next century and more - that, despite research and visitors, "when Astronomy classes were being taught, the observations of prominent celestial objects by them and for their benefit, took precedence of all other work." Students were not only taught astronomy in the classroom, they were also given the chance to practice what they learned by helping Payne and Wilson perform measurements, taking sidereal time readings with the meridian circle, and the like.
Many students went on to do further astronomical work after graduation (a few took advanced degrees from Carleton), and three became somewhat prominent. There was Wilson, certainly, and one other alumnus who would make a name for himself in the field and come back to his alma mater to teach: Edward A. Fath '02. But arguably the most famous of the early astronomy students was Anne Sewell Young '92 - one of the few professional women astronomers of her day and the long-time, well respected director of the Mt. Holyoke observatory. (Carleton produced half a dozen professional women astronomers in the first 50 years of the program; Young was the only one to win a citation in Who's Who, but two others were honored with entries in Men [sic] of Science.)
The success of such students had much to do with the quality of their teachers. Despite all his other duties, from editing journals to directing weather services to filling in for a time as Dean of the College (1896 - 99), Payne was only excused from "recitation room work" during one year. For the rest, he was in the classroom, where he won both the respect and affection of his math and astronomy students. He led his students in prayer for, and demanded from them, "mental vigor," but he was known to some as "Uncle Billy," and inspired a now anonymous student to create perhaps the most famous pun in Carleton history: "He never knew pleasure who never knew Payne."
It is a tribute not only to the importance of the observatory to the early identity of Carleton College, but also no doubt to Payne's personal charisma that the student annual (which first appeared in 1889) was named Algol after "a variable star of the second order." The idea was that future yearbooks could "vary in brightness" as does their namesake.
For his part, Herbert Wilson was known to the class of 1913 as "that dear old man with the twinkling eyes," despite student recollections that his calculus course was the hardest class at Carleton.