astronomer (1863-1941)

Astronomy has a long tradition of accepting women as scientific peers. 4,000 years ago the country of Sumer permitted them to lead the great temple observatories. They have been active ever since.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Director of the Harvard College Observatory hired many women as "computers" to handle the complex data reduction. He paid them 25 cents to the dollar but he paid them. These women of Harvard became honored members of the astronomical community.

Annie Jump Cannon was the most famous. She was born in Dover, Delaware and studied at Wellesley College, graduating in 1884. She became an expert in the new field of photography and traveled throughout Europe taking pictures. In 1896 she participated in the first x-ray experiments in this country. Then she went to Harvard College Observatory. She became the world's expert in classifying stars. She assigned over a quarter million stars to their place in the great spectral catalog: the Henry Draper Catalog. Her Harvard classification is still used today.

She became curator of the Observatory in 1911.
She received a permanent position there in 1938.
She was the first woman to receive a doctor of astronomy degree from Groningen University (1921).
She received an honorary degree from Oxford in 1925.
She won several prizes. In her honor the American Association of University Women presents the Annie J. Cannon Award each year to a woman beginning her astronomical career.
In 1923 she was voted one of the twelve greatest living American women.
In 1931 she received the Draper Award from the National Academy of Sciences. Harlow Shapley said this as he presented her with the award:

The benign presence of the Brick Building, noted collector of degrees and medals, author of nine immortal volumes, and several thousand oatmeal cookies, Virginia reeler, bridge player, and, especially, the recipient of the Draper Medal of the National Academy of Science - the first medal ever bestowed on a woman by the honorable body of fossils and one of the highest honors attainable by astronomers of any sex, race, religion, or political preference.

She herself wrote:

Classifying the stars has helped materially in all studies of the structure of the universe. No greater problem is presented to the human mind. Teaching man his relatively small sphere in the creation, it also encourages him by its lessons of the unity of Nature and shows him that his power of comprehension allies him with the great intelligence over-reaching all.

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