Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Annie Jump Cannon


Annie Jump Cannon, the first astronomer to classify the heavens systematically, was born December 11, 1863 in Dover, Delaware, U.S.A. She was educated at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1884 she went on to work as an astronomer at the Harvard Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she stayed for the rest of her life. She started doing research classifying and cataloging stars according to their stellar spectra using the procedure set up by Williamina Fleming. Cannon proved to be a tireless worker.

In 1897, she was given the title of "assistant". In 1911 she was appointed curator of astronomical photographs at the Harvard College Observatory. In 1914 she became an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society in England. Between 1918 and 1924, she published nine volumes containing information about 225,000 stars. It was published with the title Henry Draper Catalog, because Draper's widow sponsored the project in his honor. The catalog is still accepted as an international standard.

In 1925 she became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. That same year she became one of the few women members of the American Philosophical Society. Cannon continued her work and between 1925 and 1949, she published The Henry Draper Extension so that the number of stars cataloged by her during her lifetime reached about 350,000. She also discovered and documented five novas and about 300 long-period variable stars. In 1938, Harvard University finally awarded her a rank of professor just two years before her retirement. She was appointed the William Cranch Bord Astronomer.
Annie Jump Cannon died on April 13, 1941 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1996.

1. American Women's History by Doris Weatherford, Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994
2. The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost 1,000 American Women by Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, Random House, 1992
3. Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia

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