Where Was The Maria Mitchell Association In 1918?

As a historian and curator, I am often thinking about the past and how it affects the present day, how it affects different situations, and the similarities.  I also like to look at how people react to the same or similar situations in different eras.  The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic situation is no different for me.

I peruse our old MMA annual reports quite often for various bits of information whether it be from a standpoint of something that happened at the MMA, perhaps work that was done on the buildings or information about staff members of many years ago.  While I have been around for quite a bit of time (thirty years plus), I was not obviously around in the 1920s or 1940s (even though I may seem of a different era to some) and thus need to take a look back.  The annual reports are always a good place to start before I head into the Archives.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at our annual reports of the early 1900s and through the 1930s because of the more recent work we have done on our Science Library – now our Research Center re-opened in 2018 – and the conservation and restoration work that we are hoping to complete to the Maria Mitchell Vestal Street Observatory with several grants.  So, I took a walk back to 1918 because I do not remember reading much about the “Spanish Flu Pandemic” of 1918-1919.  On Nantucket, the 1918 Pandemic was prevalent – most notably during the “second wave” in the Fall of 1918.  I only found one mention of the 1918 Pandemic in the annual reports and that was in our first astronomer’s, Margaret Harwood, report on the Observatory.  In it, she mentions having to cancel the open nights in November 1918 due to the flu on Nantucket.  That’s it.  No other mention.  The Boston-area was hard hit during this “second wave” – with a belief that Fort Devens was one of the major places to see the resurgence in the Fall of 1918 as soldiers came from across the country on their way to and from Europe.

Miss Harwood did focus on the war in her reports of the time – she had taken quite a bit of time off to assist the Red Cross and other entities in the efforts to support the troops.  Of note, in articles that I have read about this period, the war did continue to –  obviously – take center-stage keeping the flu pandemic relegated to interior pages of the newspapers.  Most of the people who survived the flu pandemic – my great grandfather, a pharmacist, caught it and survived – are gone and if they are still with us today they were infants or young toddlers.  One woman who recently passed away at 102 years old, survived the Pandemic of 1918 only to lose her life to the current Pandemic.  What was curious – I’m not even sure what word to use – is that she lost her infant twin in the 1918 Pandemic.  Both lost to a flu pandemic – but 102 years apart.

I guess my point here is that we as an island, a country, a world, have been through quite a bit to put it mildly – both then and now.  The MMA survived through the pandemic of 1918-1919, the Great War, the stock market crash in 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, and World War II among many other catastrophic and world-altering events.  The MMA moved and renovated William Mitchell’s former schoolhouse into the MMA Science Library in 1918 and 1919 and added a Wing to the Science Library in the midst of the Great Depression.  My friend and mentor and the MMA’s former Ornithologist, Edith Folger Andrews, stepped in as the biology teacher for Nantucket high school students when their science teacher was drafted in World War II.  The MMA made it through other uncertain times and stock market recessions and lows, including the Great Recession of 2008.  After this, no one will be untouched, our world will be different, but we will all still be here – including here at the MMA where we will continue to be to help you learn more about the world around you – from land to sea to sky.

Wash your hands.  Cover your mouth and nose.  Be well.  Stay safe.  Stay at home unless you are an essential worker.

JNLF

 

Happy Birthday Annie Jump Cannon

ajumpcannon

Yesterday was the birthday of Annie Jump Cannon.  In honor of her birthday, I am re-posting a blog I wrote last year.

A few weeks ago, Annie Jump Cannon was the featured Google “doodle.”  Google featured Maria Mitchell as the doodle a few years ago to celebrate her birthday and has been doing a good job of featuring well-known and lesser-known woman who have made a difference in our world.

Annie Jump Cannon was among the founding members of the MMA but she was also instrumental in the development of our astronomy program.  With a growing desire to further develop a fledgling astronomy program in 1906, the MMA began a dialogue with Harvard University’s Observatory and its director, Edward Pickering, Ph.D.  The connection to Harvard was to become essential to the success of the beginning years of the Maria Mitchell Observatory and continued a legacy of friendship and work – Maria Mitchell and her father worked with the Bonds who once ran the observatory at Harvard and the families were close friends.

Besides his advice and assistance, Pickering asked a member of his staff, Annie Jump Cannon to advise and assist the MMA.  This “provided an indispensable collaboration for Nantucket astronomy” with Cannon spending two weeks on the island in both 1906 and 1907 lecturing and teaching.  While back at Harvard, she continued to teach the students on Nantucket by mail.  Cannon would go on to be recognized as the leading woman astronomer of her generation and also as the founder of the astronomy department at the MMA.

Completed in 1908, the Maria Mitchell Observatory now was in need of a permanent astronomer.  An Observatory Committee was developed and chaired by Annie Jump Cannon.  From 1909 through 1911, the Association was able to employ an astronomer to teach classes, observe, provide lectures, and open the observatory for public observing for approximately a month each summer.  As the demand grew, the MMA realized that a more extensive program was needed and the Astronomical Fellowship Committee began to raise funds for an Astronomical Fellowship Fund.  With the support of many generous donors and a matching gift from Andrew Carnegie, by 1911 the MMA had the funds it needed to support  the fellowship and began its search for an astronomer who would conduct research and provide lectures, classes and open nights for the public from mid-June through mid-December.  The fellow would spend the remainder four months in research and study – every fourth year a full year of study would be spent in an American or European observatory.

With Pickering, Cannon developed the Harvard Classification Scheme, an attempt to organize and classify stars by temperature.  She was one of many women whom Pickering hired to reduce data and carry out astronomical calculations.  She would go on to become the Curator of Astronomical Photographs at Harvard.  She received a regular Harvard appointment but just two years before she retired – she was named the William C. Bond Astronomer.  Today, there is the Annie Cannon Prize which is awarded to women astronomers who have made outstanding contributions in astronomy.

JNLF

The Clicker

The Clicker

Instead of moving to the Library for the heat this year, I can’t. It’s going to be a bit of a job site with some of the work it’s going to have to become a lab/classroom. It won’t look too different however!

So, that said, I needed to find a new home for the winter. I will miss my view of Mitchell House and the Observatory as I sit at the original library desk but now I will be in the Observatory – or at least the 1987 seminar room. So now I will be looking back at the Library building instead. A new view.

So anyway, I was over there cleaning off the desk and cleaning out one drawer of probably 20 years worth of office supply debris and what did I come across? The clicker! And I really did exclaim out loud “Oh look, the clicker!” For the tow of you who read this (haha), this clicker was used at open nights all through my youth (and perhaps Vladimir used it too, I don’t remember). But I noted its use by Lee Belserene the MMA’s Director of Astronomy in the 1970s and 1980s. She used to let my brother click us in when we arrived for an open night – I think she had a soft spot for him. I had written a short piece about her a few years ago. So nevertheless, I was very excited to see it and maybe I was exclaiming to her or to Maria, who knows what was going on in my unconscious. But now, for the winter anyway, I will look at it as it sits over my winter desk. I will have to introduce it to our new Director of Astronomy who starts in January – Regina Jorgenson – she may have met it before too when she worked with Vladimir but maybe not. We will find out!

JNLF

Our First Astronomer’s Family

Harwood Siblings

In mid-May, the great nephew and great-niece of our first MMA Astronomer and Director of the Observatory, Margaret Harwood, came to Nantucket for a visit. They had not been here since she was our astronomer and then they were young teenagers. I gave them a tour of the Observatory and chatted with them about what I knew of Miss Harwood – known as Marnie to her family and close friends – and they regaled me with some stories of their own. It was a nice visit and it was amazing to see just how strong genes are – Miss Harwood’s nephew looks just like her! At the end of his visit, Miss Harwood’s nephew pulled an envelope from his pocket and presented to me a sterling silver bracelet that belonged to her and which will now become a part of the MMA collection. I suspect it was given to her upon her retirement – I need to go back and look in the annual reports to see. Engraved on the small plate is: M. Harwood/ Observatory/ Nantucket, Mass. Coupled with her Radcliffe Graduate Chapter Medal and all her papers, astronomical glass plates, and other pieces, this makes a wonderful collection to better represent Miss Harwood, her time at MMA, and all she did fir this organization and Nantucket. Thank you to her nephew and niece!

JNLF

Annie Jump Cannon

AJumpCannon

A few weeks ago, Annie Jump Cannon was the featured Google “doodle.” Google featured Maria Mitchell as the doodle a few years ago to celebrate her birthday and has been doing a good job of featuring well-known and lesser-known woman who have made a difference in our world.

Annie Jump Cannon was among the founding members of the MMA but she was also instrumental in the development of our astronomy program. With a growing desire to further develop a fledgling astronomy program in 1906, the MMA began a dialogue with Harvard University’s Observatory and its director, Edward Pickering, Ph.D. The connection to Harvard was to become essential to the success of the beginning years of the Maria Mitchell Observatory and continued a legacy of friendship and work – Maria Mitchell and her father worked with the Bonds who once ran the observatory at Harvard and the families were close friends.

Besides his advice and assistance, Pickering asked a member of his staff, Annie Jump Cannon to advise and assist the MMA. This “provided an indispensable collaboration for Nantucket astronomy” with Cannon spending two weeks on the island in both 1906 and 1907 lecturing and teaching. While back at Harvard, she continued to teach the students on Nantucket by mail. Cannon would go on to be recognized as the leading woman astronomer of her generation and also as the founder of the astronomy department at the MMA.

Completed in 1908, the Maria Mitchell Observatory now was in need of a permanent astronomer. An Observatory Committee was developed and chaired by Annie Jump Cannon. From 1909 through 1911, the Association was able to employ an astronomer to teach classes, observe, provide lectures, and open the observatory for public observing for approximately a month each summer. As the demand grew, the MMA realized that a more extensive program was needed and the Astronomical Fellowship Committee began to raise funds for an Astronomical Fellowship Fund. With the support of many generous donors and a matching gift from Andrew Carnegie, by 1911 the MMA had the funds it needed to support the fellowship and began its search for an astronomer who would conduct research and provide lectures, classes and open nights for the public from mid-June through mid-December. The fellow would spend the remainder four months in research and study – every fourth year a full year of study would be spent in an American or European observatory.

With Pickering, Cannon developed the Harvard Classification Scheme, an attempt to organize and classify stars by temperature. She was one of many women whom Pickering hired to reduce data and carry out astronomical calculations. She would go on to become the Curator of Astronomical Photographs at Harvard. She received a regular Harvard appointment but just two years before she retired – she was named the William C. Bond Astronomer. Today, there is the Annie Cannon Prize which is awarded to women astronomers who have made outstanding contributions in astronomy.

JNLF