Early life

Annie Jump Cannon was born in Dover, Delaware on December 11, 1863. She was the eldest of three daughters. Her father, Wilson Cannon, was a prosperous shipbuilder and state senator. Her mother, Mary Jump, was Wilson's second wife. Like outstanding woman astronomer Henrietta P. Leavitt, Annie suffered a handicap in her youth — she was very hard of hearing. Despite her handicap she led a relatively normal life and ultimately achieved extraordinary success. Annie's interest in astronomy was first sparked as a young girl, when her mother taught her the constellations. At Wellesley College she pursued these interests, learning physics, astronomy, and even how to make spectroscopic measurements. (More information is available at the education page.) After she graduated from Wellesley, Annie returned home to Delaware and was a dutiful daughter. She also became an expert in the new field of photography. Annie loved to travel and in 1892 she traveled through Europe taking pictures with her new box camera. The following photograph was taken in Spain. Here she has captured the essence of the Mosque of Cordova.

Columns and ceiling of Mosque of Cordova

After she returned home Annie created a booklet of photos and prose from her trip. It was published by the Blair Company and was used as a souvenir for the Chicago World Fair in 1893. It was titled In the Footsteps of Columbus. While at home Annie became unhappy with the way her life was heading and wrote the following in her journal:

I am sometimes very dissatisfied with my life here. I do want to accomplish something, so badly. There are so many things that I could do if I only had the money. And when I think that I might be teaching and making money, and still all the time improving myself it makes me feel unhappy and as if I were not doing all that I can.

After her mother's death in 1894 Annie returned to Wellesley as an assistant in the physics department and became a “special student” of astronomy at Radcliffe. In 1896 she took part in the first X-ray experiments in this country and began her work at the Harvard College Observatory. This is where her career as an astronomer really began!

Annie Cannon lead a very full life. She traveled extensively, entertained many guests, wrote letters avidly and was an accomplished pianist. She was also an advocate for women's suffrage and a member of the National Women's party. Through out her life Annie was dedicated to education, self betterment and learning while always sharing her findings with others. Late in life Annie said, “In our troubled days it is good to have something outside our planet, something fine and distant for comfort.”