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Annie Jump Cannon

Born: 11-Dec-1863
Birthplace: Dover, DE
Died: 13-Apr-1941
Location of death: Cambridge, MA
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Lakeside Cemetery, Dover, DE

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Astronomer, Activist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Census-taker of the sky

In a time when women rarely attended college, Annie Jump Cannon studied physics, mathematics, and astronomy, and in 1896 she was hired by Edward Charles Pickering at Harvard, as one of several women assigned to assist Pickering in the Henry Draper Catalog of Stellar Spectra. Cannon, however, found the system being used unworkable, and devised a different system, categorizing stars by letters of the alphabet. Now called the Harvard Spectral Classification Scheme, her methodology was adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1922 as the official system for stellar spectra classification.

Cannon discovered about 300 stars and classified the photographic spectra of about 325,000 more, for which Time profiled her as "Census-taker of the sky". She was the first woman officer of the American Astronomical Society, holding the post of Treasurer for seven years. She was nominated for membership in the National Academy of Sciences, but not elected, after noted biologist Raymond Pearl made an issue of her deafness. She was given an official appointment by Harvard as Astronomer in 1938, the first woman so honored. An outspoken suffragette, she said that her interest in the heavens was stoked by her mother, who also had an intense interest in stargazing.

Father: Wilson Lee Cannon (shipbuilder, b. 28-Jan-1817, d. 9-Feb-1905)
Mother: Mary Elizabeth Jump Cannon (b. 7-Nov-1839, d. 22-Dec-1893)
Brother: Wilson Lee Cannon, Jr. (banker)
Brother: Robert Barrett Cannon

    High School: Wilmington Conference Academy, Dover, DE
    University: BA, Wellesley College (1884)
    Scholar: Astronomy, Radcliffe College (184-86)
    Teacher: Physics, Wellesley College (1894-96)
    Scholar: Harvard College Observatory, Harvard University (1897-1911)
    Administrator: Curator of Astronomical Photographs, Harvard University (1911-38)
    Administrator: Astronomer, Harvard University (1938-40)

    Henry Draper Medal 1931
    American Astronomical Society Treasurer (1912-19)
    American Philosophical Society
    Risk Factors: Deafness


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