Annie Jump Cannon was born in America in 1863. From a very young age, Canon was taught “the names of the constellations” (Lee) by her Mother which encouraged her early interest in astronomy. She attended “Wellesley, the women’s college in Massachusetts” (Lee) where she studied “physics and astronomy” (Lee) and various other subjects of interest and “graduated valedictorian of her class” (Lee).

Cannon’s mentor was one of the only female physicists in America at that time, “Sarah Frances Whiting” (Lee). At the age of 33, Cannon “became a Harvard Computer” (Porath) after enrolling at Radcliffe College which was “Harvard for girls” (Lee). She enrolled as an astronomy student working for Edward Pickering who was “head of the Harvard Observatory” (Porath) and recognised Cannon’s incredible potential in Radcliffe College. She then became part of his “all women team of ‘computers’” (Lee) who were responsible for “defining every star in the sky and developing a system for classifying them” (Lee). Each woman completed tremendous work carrying out “astronomical calculations” (Lee), observations and more all for a days work of only “twenty-five cents an hour” (Lee). Cannon was incredibly good at her job “classifying three stars per minute” (Porath) and around “350,000” (Porath) in her lifetime.

Eventually, she realised how inadequate and poor the current classification system was and decided she would come up with her own. Cannon created a system that became “the worldwide standard” (Lee) today and is called the Harvard Classification System which was “much more helpful and thorough” (Lee). Any further information on this system can be searched online and is too complicated to explain here but vital to astronomers. Cannon wasn’t only the fastest at classification, she was also able to memorise all of her work and if questioned about a particular picture of a star “out of tens of thousands of plates” (Porath) knew “the exact one to pick up” (Porath). They nicknamed her the Census Taker of the Skies. Throughout her life she even joined “the women’s suffrage movement and served as an ambassador for professional women everywhere” (Porath).


Lee, Mackenzi, and Petra Eriksson. Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World. Abrams Image, 2018.

Porath, Jason. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics. Dey St., 2016.