Annie Jump Cannon was born on December 11, 1863, in Dover, Delaware. She was interested in astronomy from a young age, as she and her mother referenced an old astronomy textbook to identify stars seen from their attic. She attended Wilmington Conference Academy, today known as Wesley College, located in Dover. Cannon later attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, one of the top academic schools for women. She was a student under Sarah Frances Whiting, one of the few women physicists in the United States at the time. She graduated as valedictorian with a degree in physics in 1884. 

In 1896, Cannon became a member of “Pickering’s Women”, a group of women hired by Harvard Observatory. She created the Harvard Classification Scheme, the first serious attempt to organize and classify stars based on their temperatures and spectral types.

 In 1925 she became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate of science from Oxford University. In 1935, she created the Annie J. Cannon Prize for “the woman of any country, whose contributions to the science of astronomy are the most distinguished.”