Deaf Women Fought for the Right to Vote

Deaf Women Fought for the Right to Vote

Countless deaf women have fought for personal and professional recognition, including for the right to vote, writes Joan Naturale in The Conversation.

One of them was Annie Jump Cannon, a pioneering astronomer. Naturale writes:

Born in 1863, she experienced progressive hearing loss starting at a young age. One of the first women from Delaware to attend college, she was her class valedictorian when she graduated from Wellesley College, where she excelled in the sciences and mathematics.

In 1896, she was hired as a “woman computer” at the Harvard College Observatory, along with another prominent deaf astronomer, Henrietta Swan Leavitt.

The work involved looking at photos of stars and calculating their brightness, position and color. The two were paid between 25 and 50 cents an hour – half the rate paid to men doing similar work.

Nevertheless, Cannon is credited with cataloging 350,000 stars. Building on others’ work, Cannon revolutionized and refined a system to rank stars from hottest to coolest that is still used today by the International Astronomical Union, though it is named for Harvard, not for her.

Cannon was a member of the National Woman’s Party, formed in 1916 to advocate for passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, allowing women to vote. Cannon’s suffragist efforts used her profession as a launchpad, as when she declared that “if women can organize the sky, we can organize the vote.”

Another was British deaf suffragist Helen K. Watts, born in 1881, a militant member of the radical Women’s Social and Political Union who demonstrated at Parliament in 1909 for the women’s vote.

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