User login

Annie Maunder

Annie Maunder
Credit: Royal Astronomical Society
courtesy of Dorrie Giles

Annie Maunder (1868 – 1947)

Annie Scott Dill Russell was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She was given a three year scholarship to study at Girton College, Cambridge University. In 1889 she passed the degree examinations with honours and was the top mathematician of her year but she wasn't awarded a degree because university restrictions at the time didn’t allow women to receive degrees!

In 1891 Annie took a job at the Royal Greenwich Observatory working as one of the "lady computers" in a team that studied the sun, sunspots and magnetic storms. She was poorly paid despite her university education and only earned the same rate of pay given to entry level boys when they were 14.

The leader of the Solar department was Walter Maunder and in 1895 Annie and Walter got married. However, because of restrictions that stopped married women working in the public service, Annie had to resign from her job. Despite this setback, Annie carried on working (unpaid) with her husband and accompanied him on solar eclipse expeditions all over the world. In 1897 Annie received a grant from Girton College so she could get a camera to take on an expedition to Indian in 1898 to photograph the outer solar corona but because women weren't taken seriously in science then the photograph was published under Walter’s name.

In 1904 Annie and Walter mapped the positions of sunspots from data that had been collected over a number of solar cycles. This resulted in a pattern that looked like butterfly wings and it became known as a ‘butterfly diagram’. They also showed that magnetic storms on Earth were caused by the sun’s corona and confirmed the work of the German astronomer Gustav Spörer, who had noticed that throughout the 70 years of the Little Ice Age (1645-1715) there had been little or no solar activity. This work established that there is a link between sunspot numbers and Earth’s climate and the period of little solar activity is known as the Maunder minimum. In 1908 Annie and Walter published a book "The Heavens and their Story". This featured many of Annie’s photographs and Walter did credit her as the primary author.

Many of her observations were published in scientific journals under her husband's name before she became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1916 (24 years after she first tried to join the, then, male only society). So it is not really clear just how much of their work should really have been credited just to Annie.