Annie Jump Cannon

11 Dec 1863
13 Apr 1941
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Annie Jump Cannon (December 11, 1863 – April 13, 1941) was an American astronomer whose cataloging work was instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification. With Edward C. Pickering, she is credited with the creation of the Harvard Classification Scheme, which was the first serious attempt to organize and classify stars based on their temperatures. She was nearly deaf throughout her career.

Annie Jump Cannon was born on December 11, 1863, in Dover, Delaware. She was the eldest of three daughters born to Wilson Cannon, a Delaware shipbuilder and state senator, and his second wife, Mary Jump. Cannon’s mother was the first person to teach her the constellations and encouraged her to follow her own interests, suggesting that she pursue studies in mathematics, chemistry, and biology at Wellesley College.

Cannon took her mother’s advice and pursued her love of astronomy. Cannon suffered hearing loss sometime during her childhood or early adult years. Sources vary on the time frame and actual cause, although it is sometimes attributed to scarlet fever. There are claims this hearing loss made it difficult for her to socialize, resulting in Cannon immersing herself in her work. She never married nor had children.

Annie Jump Cannon’s career in astronomy lasted for more than 40 years, until her retirement in 1940. During this time, Cannon helped women gain acceptance and respect within the scientific community. Her calm and hardworking attitude and demeanor helped her gain respect throughout her lifetime and paved the path for future women astronomers.

Cannon died on April 13, 1941, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 77. The American Astronomical Society presents the Annie Jump Cannon Award annually to female astronomers for distinguished work in astronomy.

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