Annie Jump Cannon

Who Was Annie Jump Cannon?

Annie Jump Cannon (1863–1941) was an outstanding American astronomer who made important advances in the study of astronomy, especially in the area of star classification. Her research transformed our knowledge of star spectra and established the foundation for contemporary astrophysics.

Annie Jump Cannon
Photo: thoughtco/celeblifegraphy

Early Life And Education

She was the oldest of three daughters and was born in Dover, Delaware, on December 11, 1863. Annie’s mother, Mary Jump, taught her the constellations at a young age and sparked her interest in the skies, while her father, Wilson Cannon, served as a state senator. Cannon attended Wellesley College to study physics and astronomy before graduating from Radcliffe College in 1884.

Professional Career (Harvard Observatory Work)

After graduating from college, Cannon joined a group of female astronomers known as “Pickering’s Women” when she began working as Edward C. Pickering‘s assistant at the Harvard College Observatory in 1896. Bright stars in the southern hemisphere were the subject of Cannon’s research and documentation at the Harvard Observatory. Her pay each hour was fifty cents.


Cannon’s creation of the star classification system was her most important contribution to astronomy. She created her own spectrum classification system after realizing that the current systems were useless. For many years, astronomers used her method, which employed the classifications O, B, A, F, G, K, and M, as the industry standard. She came up with the mnemonic “Oh Be A Fine Girl–Kiss Me!” to help her recall the lessons.

The Henry Draper Catalog

Because of her hard work and expertise, Astronomer Cannon was able to categorize over 225,000 stars, and from 1881 and 1924, her work was featured in the Henry Draper Catalogue. She catalogued many hundred thousand stars up to the eleventh magnitude while working as the Harvard Observatory’s curator of astronomical photos in 1911. Among the significant discoveries she made were five novae (exploding stars) and 300 variable stars.

Recognition, Honors and Awards

She persevered and made a lasting impression on the scientific world in spite of discrimination she faced as a woman in the field. She was honored with many honors and distinctions for her accomplishments, one of which was the first honorary doctorate given to a woman by Oxford University in 1925. In addition, American Astronomer Cannon was the first female officer in the American Astronomical Society and was awarded the Henry Draper Gold Medal by the National Academy of Sciences.


At the age of 77, Annie Jump Cannon died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 13, 1941, after retiring in 1940. She passed away in a hospital following a more than month-long illness, and her contributions and work are still honored for their influence on the subject of astronomy.

Interesting Facts

  • Title: Annie Jump Cannon Biography
  • Full Name: Annie Jump Cannon
  • Birth Year: 1863
  • Birth Date: December 11, 1863
  • Birth State: Delaware
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Female
  • Industries: Science
  • Schools: Wellesley College
  • Oglethorpe University, Radcliffe College, University of Oxford
  • Occupation: Scientist, Astronomer
  • Death Year: 1941
  • Death Date: April 13, 1941
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death Country: United States
  • Author: Editors


  • “The beauty of science lies in its ability to challenge our preconceptions and expand our horizons.”
  • Classifying the stars has helped materially in all studies of the structure of the universe.
  • Teaching man his relatively small sphere in the creation, it also encourages him by its lessons of the unity of Nature and shows him that his power of comprehension allies him with the great intelligence over-reaching all.
  • No greater problem is presented to the human mind.