By: Cassie LaJeunesse
While editing last week, I came across a long letter with a signature that I couldn’t quite make out. I noticed, however, that it had been sent from the Harvard Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was pretty certain that the name was Annie J. Cannon, so I looked up that name and the observatory. I was immediately fascinated. Annie Jump Cannon was an astronomer in the early 20th century. In her time working at the Harvard Observatory, she discovered hundreds of stars. While working as an assistant to the observatory staff, she and other female astronomers were tasked with documenting and classifying stars. Cannon later combined two classification systems in to a new system, which was used as the universal standard for many years.
Cannon is considered a trailblazer for women in science. She was awarded honorary degrees from three American universities, and in 1925 became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford. She was also the first female officer in the American Astronomical Society. The Annie Jump Cannon Award that she established is still given to female astronomers today.
Annie Cannon and Martha Berry were both finalists for an award from the Pictorial Review for the American woman “who made the most valuable contribution to the advancement of human welfare in 1923.” They also both received honorary degrees from Oglethorpe University in 1935. It is not clear how the two women met, but we know from the letter that Cannon visited Berry in 1935 and enjoyed herself immensely. In the letter, she also offers to send some celestial photographs for the students at the school.
Annie J. Cannon was a fascinating woman and a great role model for women in science. I find it appropriate that she was acquainted with Martha Berry, who was another great role model for strong women.