Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Women “Computers” Explored the Cosmos – Part 10

 “Although she encountered the same discrimination that challenged other women of her time, Cannon was a deaf woman during the heyday of Social Darwinism, and she faced additional attitudinal barriers to her advancement and professional recognition;…”1

Here is the perfect example: “In 1923 Raymond Pearl corresponded with E. B. Wilson, Harvard School of Public Health on the question of electing a woman, in general, and the fitness of astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, in particular. Both agreed that her scientific accomplishments were more than sufficient for the honor, but Pearl, a eugenicist, said he could not vote for her because she was deaf. It was hard enough, he joked, to run the Academy meeting with the misfits already there without adding any more ‘physical defectives’! But it was not up to Pearl or Wilson to nominate her. That was the task of the astronomy section of the Academy which never did put her name forward (not one woman astronomer was elected to the Academy until 1978).”2

John Lankford and Ricky L. Slavings in American Astronomy: Community, Careers, and Power, talk about how men were able to detach women from progress: “Frequently, the isolation of women resulted from the dual action of men.”3

An example of this is when a major career decision was made for Annie without her input or approval. “William Wallace Campbell wrote to acting HCO director Solon I. Bailey concerning the appointment of Annie Jump Cannon as a member of the American delegation to the first meeting of the International Astronomical Union.”4

Campbell was not worried about the other delegates welcoming her, but his worry was “’I do not feel like encouraging her as she would be the only woman on the delegation and probably the only woman of the meeting… I fear she would not feel at home.’”5

Who can say what she might have learned or what knowledge she might have shared with the other delegates.

Cannon had a more positive outlook on the opportunities for women to advance in a career. In addressing her fiftieth Wellesley class reunion “Cannon insisted that ‘the chances were really excellent in those days… the roads were not crowded.’ Cannon’s views were colored by her own remarkable talent and good fortune. In fact, the chances for a satisfying career in science depended on the gender of the intending scientist.”6

“This makes Annie Cannon a complicated figure – a feminist and traditionalist in one.”7
1Harry G. Lang, Bonnie Meath-Lang. Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995), 67.
2Margaret W. Rossiter. Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 19940. (Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1982) 286.
 3, 4, 5, 6John Lankford, Ricky L. Slavings. American Astronomy: Community, Careers, and Power, 1859-1940. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 333-34, 322.

7Julie Des Jardins. The Madame Curie Complex: The hidden history of women in science. (New York: Feminist Press, City University of New York, 2010), 96

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