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Episode 10 of #DeafHistorySeries is on Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941), the “Computer” whose work mapped the field of astronomy and impacted the way the sky is seen. a banner with blue background and beige text saying: deaf hi
Annie Jump Cannon was born in Dover, Delaware on 11 December 1863, the eldest of three children born to Wilson Lee Cannon and Mary Jump.

Wilson was a shipbuilder and state senator who had four children with his first wife Ann Scotten. Mary was an amateur astronomer. young annie jump cannon
In her adolescent years, Mary took astronomy classes at Quaker Friend’s School near Philadelphia. She passed her love of star-gazing to Annie, fashioning a makeshift observatory in their attic.

As a child, Annie spent days studying the constellations & reading astronomy books. the night sky with stars and planets visible
Wilson & Mary nourished Annie’s love of learning. Mary especially encouraged her to study science and mathematics & aim for higher education.

In 1880, Cannon became the first woman from Delaware to leave for college, enrolling at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. sketch of the college
Women at the time were expected to marry & stay within their homes. Education, it was believed, would weaken their constitution.

The rise of “Seven Sisters” colleges from 1865-1889 made higher education a dignified goal for upper-class women. Many choose to study the sciences. A group of women from 1880 sitting outside in front of a bui
At Wellesley, Cannon studied physics under Sarah F. Whiting (1847-1927), the college’s first professor of physics (pictured). It was Whiting who introduced Cannon to astrological spectroscopy—the study of stars using electromagnetic radiation to identify their properties. PHoto of sarah whiting, a white woman wearing a black dress
After Edward Charles Pickering (1846-1919), the Director of Harvard Observatory invited Whiting to visit and work with the telescope, Whiting ensured no astronomical event would pass without her students witnessing it. women working in a lab full of physics equipment
Whiting even showed Cannon how to use a four-inch telescope to observe the Great Comet of 1882.

“Morning after morning,” Cannon wrote in her eulogy of Whiting in 1927, “she marshalled the girls to balcony or porch to see the Great Comet…in all its splendor.” drawing of the comet in the night sky
At Wellesley, Cannon's hearing declined, likely due to damage from winter exposure. Scarlet fever in 1893 worsened her deafness; by middle-age she was nearly completely deaf. One of her brothers also became deaf, giving some indication Cannon had progressive hereditary deafness. Annie Jump Cannon looking through a large telescope
Throughout her life, Cannon managed her deafness by speechreading and favoring one-on-one conversations. She even obtained one of the early Acousticon hearing aids to assist her in more lively social situations when needed.

(Picture: ad for Acousticon, 1906) A woman seated next to a table, she has a hearing aid in a p
Cannon graduated in 1884 as valedictorian of her class, returning to Dover & keeping busy with reading clubs & tutoring.

In 1892 she visited Europe to photograph a solar eclipse, compiling her work as a booklet to sell at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.… cover of the pamplet with a photo of a monument. Title is In
A year later, Mary Jump Cannon died, leaving her daughter without her closest intellectual companion.

Unable to stay in Dover and be surrounded by her mother’s memories, 10 years after graduation Cannon returned to Wellesley College, reaching to her former professors for work. women physicists in a lab
Whiting helped Cannon procure an assistantship conducting X-ray experiments in the physics lab. Cannon taught physics & took graduate courses in astronomy & physics.

She would eventually obtain her masters from Wellesley College in 1907. cannon outside seated at a chair and looking through a teles
Cannon also connected to Pickering, who offered her an unpaid internship at Harvard Observatory. As the Observatory gained fame for its photographic research, Cannon transferred to Radcliffe College in 1896 as a “special student” to work with more powerful telescopes. overhead photo of the harvard observatory the large refractor telescope at the harvard observatory
At the Observatory, Cannon joined “Pickering’s Women,” the nickname for the group of female astronomers hired by Pickering to complete the Henry Draper Catalogue—an extensive effort to provide the positions, magnitudes, & spectra of more than 225,330 stars using astrophotography. pickering standing outside with his female astronomers
The women analyzed the observatory data, essentially performing as “human computers.” They were also cheaply paid, making 25 to 50 cents hourly despite the complexity of their work. They worked on atmospheric refraction, classified stars, and cataloged photos and star charts. women astronomers at work
Cannon’s early years at the Observatory were spent studying variable stars, recording slight fluctuations in brightness.

She worked alongside prominent astronomers, including Williamina Fleming, Cecilia Payne, Antonia Maury, and Henrietta Leavitt (pictured)--who was also deaf! cannon and leavitt standing on steps outside a front door an
While working, Cannon found the conventional systems of star classification ineffective. Stars are classified based on their spectra—the lines that interrupt the rainbow of colors by splitting light with a prism. Each line corresponds to a different chemical makeup in the star. cannon looking at photograph plates
Based on the thickness of the lines on a star’s spectrum, Cannon created a new system with seven classes—O, B, A, F, G, K, M. She realized that the stellar temperatures also determined spectral lines: O stars are hot and blue; M stars are cool and red. Her system is still used. the spectrm letters in vertical order
In 1911, Cannon became the curator of astronomical photographs at Harvard Observatory.

Her work was effective as she could classify three stars/minute. Pickering praised her speed in 1927: “Miss Cannon is the only person in the world—man or woman—who can do this work quickly.” Cannon's star spectra identified in a photo
Cannon classified more than 225,000 stars. Her work was published in the Draper Catalogue. She also discovered 300 variable stars and 5 novae (exploding stars).

See more about her work with stellar spectra:… cannon looking at photograph plates
In 1923, the National League of Women Voters declared Cannon one of 12 greatest living women. Two years later, she received an honorary Doctor of Science from Oxford, the first women in its 300-year history. Cannon received many other honorary degrees, including from @udelaware. an elderly Cannon smiling and wearing graduation robes
Though a popular collaborator & friend, some American eugenicists (e.g Raymond Pearl) considered Cannon “defective” due to her deafness & prevented her from being nominated to the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1931, she became the first woman awarded the Henry Draper Medal. men in suits standing outside a building. there are two wome
A year later, Cannon was awarded the Ellen Richards Research Prize from the Association to Aid Scientific Research. After giving the $1000 prize, AASR dissolved the award, explaining that women had finally achieved equal research opportunities as men. Cannon seated at her desk, at work
Cannon disagreed, arguing more scientific support for women was needed.

She used her award to endow the Annie Jump Cannon Prize for women astronomers, which is still given every 3 years by the American Astronomical Society. Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin (1900-1979) was first winner PHoto of Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin working at her desk, smili
Cannon continued working, even travelling to Arequipia, Peru, to photograph stars near the South celestial pole. In 1938, after 40 years of work, she finally received a permanent position at Harvard, retiring two years later.

She died in April 1941. Cannon inside a large telescope observatory
Fun Fact: Annie Jump Cannon is featured in Issue 33 of Wonder Women of History! Comic panel featuring Cannon
Further Reading:

Dava Sobel, THE GLASS UNIVERSE (2017)

Natasha Geiling, “The Women Who Mapped the Universe and still couldn’t get any respect”…

Norah H. Murphy, “Eyes to the Sky”…

Galactic Gazette: Cannon standing outside in a forest
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