It was her mother who nurtured a love in young Annie Jump Cannon for astronomy. The two would sit in the attic of the family home and gaze and identify stars at night.
This childhood passion turned into college study. Annie went to Wellesley, where she majored in physics and astronomy and graduated as the valedictorian of her class in 1884.
After graduation she focused on photography. But after her mother passed away in 1894, Annie took a job as a junior physics teacher at Wellesley and began taking courses in astronomy at Radcliffe. It was also around this time that Annie became mostly deaf, likely after falling ill with scarlet fever.
After two years of study, she was hired to catalog and classify stars at the Harvard College Observatory. The role was part of a program of women computers who were hired by Edward Pickering, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory. At the observatory, Annie worked with Williamina Fleming, and years later in 1911, she would replace her as observatory curator of astronomical photographs.
In her observatory work, Annie became the best at classifying stars, referred to by some as the census taker of the sky. Her boss there said that “Miss Cannon is the only person in the world – man or woman – who can do this work so quickly.”
Over the course of her career, Annie discovered about 300 stars and classified over 350,000. She retired in 1940 and passed away the following year.
“Astronomer Annie Jump Cannon” sources:
Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Annie Jump Cannon.” National Women’s History Museum, 2020. Accessed October 2nd, 2020 (https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/annie-jump-cannon / Wikipedia / Fitzgerald, Helen (18 September 1927). “Counted the Stars in the Heavens”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. / Harvard University Radcliffe College Archives / Annie Jump Cannon, Theorist of Star Spectra – San Diego Supercomputer Center
“Astronomer Annie Jump Cannon.” Historical Snapshots.