1892: Annie Jump Cannon writes to the Society

Sometimes it’s the little things that catch the blogger’s eye.  In February 1892, the minutes record that the Society received a letter from Miss Annie J. Cannon of Dover inquiring about the Society’s publications.  Yes, that Annie J. Cannon—the woman who discovered 300 stars and classified 225,000. 

 Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) grew up in Dover, where her mother taught her the constellations and kindled her love for astronomy.  Cannon went to Wellesley College, where she studied physics and astronomy and graduated in 1884.

 Then she went home to Dover.  Cannon’s biographies focus primarily on her achievements, but this entry from the Society’s minutes raises the question of what life was like for her back at home.  What did a highly intelligent young woman with a degree from one of the best colleges do to fill her time and feed her spirit?  She did not follow the conventional pattern and get married and have children.  We do know that she developed a strong interest in photography and traveled in Europe in 1892, but little more is known about this period in her life. 

 Annie Jump Cannon’s mother died in 1894, which spurred her to leave home to follow her dream of studying the stars.  She returned to Wellesley, where she taught and studied.  She also studied at Radcliffe.  In 1896 she joined the staff of the Harvard Observatory, where she worked with other women astronomers classifying stars. She worked until 1940, earning many honors along the way. 

 So this routine bit of business raises a question worthy of further research: what was life like for Annie Jump Cannon between 1884 and 1894?

Annie Jump Cannon with telescope in Arequipa, Peru
Annie Jump Cannon with telescope in Arequipa, Peru

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