Edward Charles Pickering (1846-1919), director of Harvard Observatory, was of the opinion that women were better data processors than men (he found that his maid did a better job than the men he had hired previously), and so he hired promising women (at 25 cents an hour - less than secretarial wages at the time) to staff his research team (they were also cheaper than men!)  These were known (probably derisively) as "Pickering's women" or "Pickering's harem," or more respectfully the "computers,"  by the scientific community, but the amount of data crunched by these dedicated researchers soon made an indellable mark in the study of stellar astronomy.  One of the most famous of "Pickering's women" was Annie Jump Cannon, who was eventually appointed to an official astronomy position at Harvard just before she died in April of 1941.

Annie Jump Cannon was born and grew up in Delaware.  She eventually attended Wellesley College, where she unfortunately contracted scarlet fever.  The disease left her nearly deaf for the rest of her life, but she still got her degree in physics in 1884.  She was bored with the opportunities available for women, isolated by her near deafness, and much more educated than the women around her.  However, when her mother died in 1894, she returned to Wellesley, transferring to Radcliffe (associated with Harvard), which allowed her access to Harvard Observatory. Pickering hired her in 1896, and she soon became one of the "stars" of "Pickering's women," along with Williamina Fleming, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Antonia Maury.

Pickering's early "computers" provided the data for Pickering's 1890 Henry Draper catalog of stellar spectra, with data on 10,000 stars. Cannon then composed the revised Henry Draper Catalog of nearly 230,000 stars during her tenure. She also published a catalog of variable stars, including 300 she had discovered herself.  Cannon developed the classification of stars as a function of their spectra - O, B, A, F, G, K, M classes, still in use as the Harvard Stellar Classification Scheme. The work was funded by Anna Draper, Henry Draper's widow.  

Finally finishing her MA in 1907, Cannon continued her work at Harvard Observatory to her death in 1941. She had been honored numerous times, being presented with the first honorary doctorate given to a woman by Oxford (1925), and was listed as one of the 12 greatest living American women by the League of Women Voters in 1929.

Internet References:

Annie Jump Cannon http://www.sdsc.edu/...

Annie Jump Cannon http://en.wikipedia.org/...

Harvard Computers http://en.wikipedia.org/...

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Wed Aug 15, 2012 at 11:41 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech, History for Kossacks, J Town, and Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

Your Email has been sent.