Annie Scott Dill Maunder


Born: 14 April 1868 in Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland
Died: 15 September 1947 in Wandsworth, London, England

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Northern Irish astronomer and mathematician Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell) was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland (now County Tyrone is part of Northern Ireland) on 14 April 1868 to parents William Andrew Russell (1824-1899) and his second wife Hessy Nesbitt Dill. William Russell was the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Strabane from 1846 until 1882. Hessy Nesbitt Dill was the daughter of the Reverend John Dill and his wife Elizabeth. Annie was a member of a large family since William Russell had two sons with his first wife Mary Dill Campbell (they married in 1850), and two sons and two daughters with his second wife Hessy who he married in 1860. Annie's brother J Dill Russell also became an astronomer. We note that William Russell's eldest son by his first marriage, Samuel Russell, became a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Peking, China.

Annie Russell was home educated before she received her secondary education from the Ladies Collegiate School in Belfast, which later became known as Victoria College. Through an 1886 intermediate school examination, she won a prize allowing her to sit the Girton open entrance scholarship examination. With this, she won a three-year scholarship, and thus studied at Girton College, Cambridge. She graduated in 1889, ranking Senior Optime (equivalent to second-class at other universities) in the mathematical tripos, and top mathematician at Girton in her year. Her studies had not been easy for, as her lecturer William Henry Young wrote, she had been (see [7]):-

... more than ordinarily handicapped - even for a woman - by an insufficiency of preliminary training, nothing but the power Miss Russell has of throwing herself completely into her work, could have enabled her to read as far as she has, and with such success.
Due to restrictions of the period, however, Annie was not allowed to receive the B.A. degree that she would have otherwise earned. At the time, there were even protests in Cambridge against the idea of granting women degrees. This is one of the many examples of sexism she faced and overcame throughout her career. It would not be until 1948 that the university would start to award degrees to women.

Annie Russell was appointed as a mathematics teacher at the Ladies' College, Jersey, but did not find that job satisfying. Learning from her friend, the astronomer Alice Everett, of a possible appointment at the Royal Observatory Greenwich she applied but was rejected. Showing her determination, she made second application which was successful and she began her work at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in 1891, joining the team of 'lady computers', employed by Astronomer Royal William Christie. These women were assigned to the special solar department, set up in 1873 to photograph the Sun, where they received a barely sufficient £4 per month. Women were only considered for these roles because the Astronomer Royal needed skilled assistants, but could only afford lowly computers, historically schoolboys. This way, Christie could hire trained mathematicians without paying very much. By taking this job, Annie took a large pay drop, as she had previously briefly been working as a school teacher on a salary of £80 per annum and, in addition, accommodation was included. There is evidence that she applied for more money from the Observatory and was rejected. Part of her job was to examine and measure the daily sunspot photographs.

In 1892, she was one of the few women to receive a special invitation to attend all ordinary meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society. It was also at this time that her name was put forward to obtain a fellowship of the Society, but she did not gain enough of the votes in their secret ballot, thus was rejected. At this time, many in the Society argued that since the pronoun "he" had always been used in the charter, women could not be admitted. Since women were more welcome in the British Astronomical Association, she joined this group before eventually being made Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in November 1916, only months after the Society had begun to accept women as Fellows. She was asked multiple times to become president of the British Astronomical Association, but refused on account of her voice, and its inability to carry in a large room. The British Astronomical Association had been founded in October 1890 by Walter Maunder, with support of others, to provide a society more aimed at amateur astronomers. It was set up with a Council consisting of 48 members, 4 of whom were women.

The lady computers at Greenwich would carry out routine calculations, working to convert raw observational information into usable data. They were also trained in the use of telescopes. It was while here in Greenwich that she met and worked with Walter Maunder, head of the Photographic and Spectroscopic Department in the Greenwich Observatory, the man she would go on to marry in 1895. Walter was a widower with 5 children before he met Annie. Walter's children were aged between 7 and 21 at the time of the marriage. Together they had no children of their own.

As a result of their marriage and the civil service laws, Annie had to step down from her job at the Observatory; married women could not work in public service. This did not stop her from pursuing her interest in astronomy. The husband and wife duo continued to collaborate, embarking on five expeditions to Vadsøya, Finland (eclipse on 9 August 1896), Talini Village, India (eclipse on 22 January 1898), Algiers, Algeria (eclipse on 28 May 1900), Mauritius (eclipse on 18 May 1901), and Labrador, Newfoundland, Canada (eclipse on 30 August 1905) to view total solar eclipses. The expedition to Finland was organised by the British Astronomical Association and on it Annie Maunder operated the four-inch coronograph with her brother J Dill Russell. It was while in India in 1898, again on an expedition organised by the British Astronomical Association, that Annie shot the longest coronal streamer on photographic record. She had received a grant the previous year from Girton College to acquire the short-focus camera with a 1.5-inch lens with which she took the photograph. The pair also took solar photographs on each clear day just to make note of where the sunspots were. On the British Astronomical Association expedition to Algiers, as well as Annie and Walter Maunder, was Walter's two eldest daughters. Annie reported that on this expedition:-

... we have been more successful than we have dreamed.
Here is Annie Maunder's own description of her work in Mauritius in 1901 [15]:-
Having observed successfully the eclipses of 1898 January 22, in India, and 1900 May 28, in Algiers, and my husband having been sent to Mauritius as the representative of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, to observe the eclipse of May 18 last, I determined to accompany him, and to take with me the instruments which we had used in 1900. By the great kindness of Mr G J Newbegin, F.R.A.S., I was also furnished with a 41-inch Cooke photo-visual telescope of 71 inches focus. As my husband fixed his observing station at the Royal Alfred Observatory, Panmplemousses, and as the Director, Mr Claxton, gave me every facility, I set up my instruments in the Observatory grounds. The Newbegin telescope was mounted upon the equatorial stand of the photoheliograph which was left vacant, the Mauritius photoheliograph having been dismounted in order that it might be used in connection with the 16-inch coelostat of the official Greenwich Expedition. The photoheliograph dome stands on the east of the Observatory grounds, and about 150 feet to the west of the dome I set up the Waters equatorial lent to my husband by the Royal Astronomical Society, which I used to carry two little cameras, each with a 12-inch Dallmeyer Stigmatic lens. About 105 feet further west the camera belonging to the Waters telescope was firmly fixed, pointing directly to the Sun, and by its side the Niblett lens belonging to the British Astronomical Association, a photographic lens 4 inches in diameter, and of 34 inches focus. This was likewise fixed rigidly. Mr Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S., also lent me his kinematograph, and this was mounted a few feet further south. The management of these instruments during the eclipse was very kindly undertaken by several friends, and I was further helped by three non-commissioned officers who had volunteered to assist in the eclipse observations.
Despite Annie's forced dismissal from public service, it must be made clear that she did not simply operate as her husband's assistant: she was a trained mathematician and put a lot of work into analysis; on their expedition to Labrador in August 1905, Annie was funded by the Canadian government as she was considered an expert in the field of eclipse photography.

Annie and Walter Maunder's book, The Heavens and their Story, was published in 1908, crediting them both as co-authors. It was a popular science book. It was usual at this time for a woman to either use a male pseudonym, or to include a man as co-author, but in the preface, Walter acknowledged that Annie had done almost all of the work for the book. The book included her photographs of the Sun and the Milky Way. Mary Brück writes in [7]:-

This delightful book, a model of what a science book for the general reader ought to be, displays Mrs Maunder's own style and interests.
For an extract from the Preface of The Heavens and their Story, written by Walter Maunder, see THIS LINK.

She published her own work too. In May 1907, her paper on An Apparent Influence of the Earth on the Numbers and Areas of Sunspots in the Cycle 1889-1901 was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, being communicated by the Astronomer Royal. This contained details of 600 recurrent sunspot groups based on Greenwich observations. Moreover, she spent 35 years as Editor of the British Astronomical Association's journal (Walter Maunder had been one of the founders of the Association in 1890) from 1894. With this, and in her role as the Association's vice-president, she was heavily involved in the promotion of astronomy to a general audience.

Although not able to work there in an official capacity, Annie returned to the Greenwich Observatory voluntarily during the years 1915-1920, to fill spaces left vacant by those fighting in World War I. She continued to work as she had done previously, but before she was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (1916), many of her observations that were published in popular journals were done so in Walter's name.

Being 17 years Annie's senior, Walter died in 1928 almost 20 years before she did, leaving her to continue her astronomical work alone. She continued to devote herself to the work of the British Astronomical Association, maintaining the role of editor of its journal for the year following her husband's death. She also worked on chronology, and was referred to by Arthur Eddington on his enquiry on the date of the Nativity, as she was considered an authority in the field. She had written an essay on a biblical topic in 1923 which was awarded the Gibson Prize by Girton College. In her later years, she became interested in ancient astronomies, specifically the origin of the 48 ancient constellations, becoming an authoritative figure on the subject. In her final paper, in 1936, she revised an estimate of the date for the origin of the constellations, which she placed at around 2900 BC. Annie herself passed away on 15 September 1947 following a short illness.

The name Maunder is still remembered in scientific circles today, though many forget that it represents not just Walter, but Annie too. Dr Sue Bowler, editor of the Royal Astronomical Society magazine, Astronomy and Geophysics writes:-

She was acknowledged on papers, she published in her own name as well as with her husband, she wrote books, she was clearly doing a lot of work but she also clearly kept to the conventions of the day.
The lunar crater Maunder is named for the pair, as is the Maunder minimum, the name used for the period of time around 1645 to 1715 during which sunspots became exceedingly rare. In 2016, the Annie Maunder Medal was created, a prize given in recognition of public engagement in science. 2018 saw a blue plaque unveiled in County Tyrone, where she was born, and in June of that year, the Royal Observatory Greenwich announced its instalment of a new telescope, the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT). There is to be an exhibition about her story on the building's ground floor.

Let us end with a quote from Marilyn Ogilvie [16]:-

Forbidden professionalism by her gender, Annie Maunder was compelled to be an obligatory amateur. But rather than resenting this niche, she took advantage of the situation to become an advocate of the amateur. Possessing all the requisites for professionalism except the correct gender, she was not just an adjunct to Walter but an important contributor to astronomy in her own right. ... Annie Maunder's basic mathematical training, thoughtful publications, editing of journals and membership of professional organisations make it clear that she was a full participant in the astronomical community.

Article by: I J Falconer, J G Mena, J J O'Connor, T S C Peres, E F Robertson, University of St Andrews.


List of References (17 books/articles)

Mathematicians born in the same country

Additional Material in MacTutor

  1. Annie and Walter Maunder: The heavens and their story
  2. An entry in The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles

Honours awarded to Annie Scott Dill Maunder
(Click below for those honoured in this way)
1. Lunar features Crater Maunder


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JOC/EFR November 2018
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School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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