As a child, Annie was fascinated by the stars. Her mother taught her to recognize the constellations using books she'd studied from as a child, and even helped her build a homemade observatory in the attic of their home.
After graduation in 1884, though, she returned home, resuming her close relationship with her mother and enjoying a full social calendar for many years. She may have wanted to work, but there were no opportunities for women in any of the fields that interested her. So she looked for other ways to occupy herself, most notably taking up a new art form called photography. She traveled around Europe in 1892, and when she returned a small booklet of her writings and images from that trip were published and sold at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, entitled "In the Footsteps of Columbus."
Then, in 1894, her mother died. Annie was devastated, and found it nearly impossible to stay at home any longer. The memories of the happier times spent with her mother were too upsetting. She reached out to her former astronomy professor at Wellesley, Sarah Frances Whiting, asking about possible job openings or other opportunities to change her situation. Fortunately for Annie, there was a teaching job available at Wellesley, which gave Annie something to do as well as enabled her to take graduate classes in physics and astronomy. It was during this time she learned about astrological spectroscopy -- the study of stars using electromagnetic radiation to learn more about their make up and other properties.
Pickering hired several young women to help with this task, claiming that women were more patient and dexterous while handling the fiddly equipment. In actual fact, it was more likely because he could get away with paying a woman a tiny fraction of what he would have to pay a man, and thus he could hire more women to tackle the work. In any case, this was a fantastic opportunity for Annie and the others who became known as "Pickering's Women." She'd finally found a way to fuse her intelligence and passion in one amazing project.
In the years before Annie and the other women joined the team, Pickering's astronomers used make-shift equipment of a telescope, spectroscope and camera to take spectrograms (photos of the spectrum made by each star's light) and then studied each one to learn about that star -- what elements it contained, what its temperature was, its size, and how fast it was moving. By the time she came along, there was a backlog of images from over ten years that still needed to be analyzed. Annie set to work immediately.
After Edward Pickering retired, she continued their work on her own for nearly 40 years. She traveled extensively, visiting observatories around the world, and building an extensive network of astronomers, encouraging international scientific collaboration and sharing of important information and data. The bulk of her work went into creating the Henry Draper Star Catalog, which is still in use today.
Over her career, she received many awards and honors. But the one honor that is the most impressive to me is her issue of Wonder Women of History. Wonder Woman creator William Marston wanted girls to have great female role models, including actual women in addition to Diana Prince. So he created a series of comics dedicated to sharing the stories of some of the amazing women throughout history. Annie Jump Cannon's story was told in issue #33.
If you like the work I do here at Self-Rescuing Princess Society,
please check out my Patreon.
please check out my Patreon.
You may also be interested in:
Happy Birthday - Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit
During World War II, she went to work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground ballistics laboratory in Maryland. Not unlike many women working for the war effort, she was forced to take a position below her status while she watched men who had less experience take higher level jobs. Frustrated that women weren't getting the training they needed and the promotions they deserved...
Happy Birthday Beatrice Tinsley
Beatrice Muriel Hill Tinsley was born January 27, 1941, in Chester, England. Her father was a minister, and her mother was a cellist and writer. After World War II, her family moved to New Zealand, where she and her sisters attended the all girls district schools. Beatrice showed an early affinity for learning, and did quite well in her studies.
Charlotte Moore Sitterly - Astrophysicist
This humble daughter of Quaker teachers went on to become one of the most important researchers in astronomy, with her works continuing to benefit science even now. As a student at Swathmore College, she took a wide range of classes to expose herself to as much knowledge as possible. When it came time to pick a major, though, she went with the department in which she'd taken the most classes, which was Mathematics. And it's lucky for us that she did.