People: Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell)

Name Maunder, Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell)
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
1 Sep 1891 – 31 Oct 1895
  Jan 1916– 28 Feb 1921
Posts 1891, Sep 1

Computer (resigned 31 Oct 1895)

1916, Jan

1919, Oct 1

  1921, Jan 1 Volunteer (RGO7/266)

Born 1868, Apr 14

Died 1947, Sep 15


Family links Married E Walter Maunder (Assistant) in 1895

Known Addresses 1891–1895 16 The Circus, Greenwich (now 16 Gloucester Circus)

18 Walerand Road, Lewisham

86 Tyrwhitt Road, Brockley

69 Tyrwhitt Road, Brockley

38 Crooms Hill

8 Maze Hill (now 38 Maze Hill)



Annie Maunder with her husband E Walter Maunder in India in January 1898. Photo by JPG Smith (detail). From The Indian eclipse (British Astronomical Association)

By 1889, the Astronomer Royal, William Christie, had been in office for eight years and overseen a considerable expansion in the number of telescopes both deployed and planned. But the number of staff both permanent and temporary had remained essentially unchanged. Unable to secure funding for additional assistants, Christie did secure an increase in the budget for temporary computers in 1889, allowing their number to rise from 14 to 22 within two years.

Extra computers were all very well, but what Christie really wanted was more assistants. To this end, he therefore made the decision to experiment with employing ‘Lady Computers’ (up until then all the professional staff had been men). Only women who had graduated at a University Ladies’ College were considered.  Four such assistants were taken on in 1890: a Miss Clemes, together with Miss Rix and Miss Furniss from Newnham College Cambridge and Miss Everett from Girton College Cambridge. All four began work on 14 April and were set to work on re-computing the transit observations from 1886 (RGO7/29). Clemes it seemed was the first to leave. Furniss resigned in 1891 and was replaced on 1 September by Annie Russell (RGO7/29), a contemporary of Everett’s at Girton. Although older and considerably better educated than the Boy Computers, their pay and conditions were the same. But unlike the boys who were generally still living with their parents, the Lady computers had to find (and presumably pay for) their own accommodation. Russell was asigned to work for E Walter Maunder who, in 1891, was responsible for ‘the measurement of the solar photographs and the superintendence of the reductions connected with them … [and] also the special spectroscopic observations and reductions; and with the special care of the south-east or great equatorial’. Part of her work was to examine and measure the daily sunspot photographs. She also became a certified observer with both the transit instrument and the photoheliograph for which she received a small extra allowance.

The meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society held on Friday 12 February 1892 was significant on two counts. Firstly it was the date when new officers and council members were elected and secondly, Russell, Everett and the amateur solar astronomer Elizabeth Brown were all nominated for election as fellows of the society, which at that point, had no female fellows. Arthur Downing, one of the Observatory's assistants and outgoing secretary of the society was the proposer for Everett, whilst Maunder, who was one of two new secretaries to be elected at the meeting, was the proposer for Russell and seconder for Brown. When the applications were voted on by the existing fellows, all three of the women candidates were rejected. Given that Maunder, Downing and Brown had all played an important part in the setting up of the British Astronomical Association (BAA) in 1890, (which unlike the Royal Astronomical Society was open to women to join) it seems likely that the three applications to the Royal Astronomical Society were made in a concerted and provocative attempt to get the Society to admit women as well.

The photoheliograph as used by Annie during her first period of employment. The new secondary magnifier (right) was added on 2 April 1884. Photo by E Walter Maunder. From The Leisure Hour (1898) p.376

The configuration of the photoheliograph as used by Annie during her second spell at the Observatory. It is seen here on on the roof of the south wing of the New Physical Building soon after a new camera had been fitted. From The heavens and their story, by Annie & E Walter Maunder

Christie’s enthusiasm for employing women computers did not last long. Rix resigned her post in 1892 on health grounds, Everett secured a position at the Observatory in Potsdam in 1895 and Russell resigned a few weeks later on 31 October to marry her boss, who was 17 years her senior. The marriage took place on 28 December at St Mark’s Presbyterian Church, Greenwich. Not only did Annie take on and care for many of Maunder’s five surviving children from his first marriage, but she also had to resign from her post at the Observatory as the rules of the Civil Service then required. Despite this, she still managed to have a successful career as an astronomer. As well as being a member of the BAA, she was for many years the editor of its journal. She accompanied Walter on five total solar eclipse expeditions, the first of which took place in Norway in 1896. She was also a published author. Her best known publications is probably The Heavens and their story, which she and Walter wrote together.

Many modern commentators speak of Christie’s social innovation. But in truth, the employment of the Lady Computers was exploitative and little more than a stop-gap measure. By the time Russell resigned, the problem of insufficient numbers of established staff was about to be resolved and no more ladies were appointed. Indeed, those making enquiries were told ‘ladies are no longer employed at the Royal Observatory’. The next time women were employed at the Observatory, was again as Computers, and again out of necessity. But this time it was because of the staffing shortages caused by the First World War. Although Walter had retired in 1913, both he and Annie returned to the Observatory on a voluntary basis in January 1916 to work in the solar department. Although Walter was temporarily reinstated into his former post in April that year, it was only around the time that he retired for a second time on 30 September 1919 that Annie was formally reinstated as a Computer. She resigned in 1920. In the meantime, following a change to the Royal Astronomical Society’s Charter in 1915, the new Astronomer Royal, Frank Dyson, nominated her in 1916 for election as a fellow. This time around her application was successful. Click here to read more about the admittance of women to the Society.

Annie Maunder at her telescope in Algiers during the May 1900 solar eclipse. Photo by H Ellis. From The total eclipse of May 1900 (British Astronomical Association)

Between 1887 and 1895 Walter had lived in a newly built house, Hyde House, in Ulundi Road on the east side of Greenwich Park in close proximity to several of the other Greenwich Assistants, Lewis, Hollis and Crommelin, who all lived in the same road. Following his marriage to Annie, he moved the family about as far away as possible (given the need to be close to his work) to Walerand Road on the Lewisham side of Blackheath well away from the homes of any other staff member. As well as removing themselves from the daily scrutiny of the Observatory staff the Maunders were also able to use a different railway line when travelling up to London. Following two futher moves to houses in Brockley, the Maunders eventually returned to the vicinity of Greenwich Park in about 1911.

Following their marriage, the Maunders moved into a terrace in Walerand Road, just off Lewisham Hill. Their house (No. 18) was entered by the gate on the left. From a postcard (No. 907) published by Perkins Son & Venimore in about 1904

This view looking north along Tyrwhitt Road from Hilly Fields towards St John's Church would have been very familiar to the Maunders, who lived in the road from 1900–11. Hilly Fields, which is in Brockley, features prominently in their book The Heavens and their Story. The spire of the church, which was located in Lewisham High Road (now Lewisham Way) was used as an azimuth mark for Airy's Altazimuth Telescope from 1888 onwards. From a postcard published by Perkins Son & Venimore in about 1903


Obituaries and further reading

Obituary: Maunder, Annie Scott Dill. MA Evershed, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 108, pp.48–9 (1948)

Lady Computers at Greenwich in the Early 1890s. MT Brück, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 36, p.83– 95 (1995)

Alice Everett and Annie Russell Maunder torch bearing women astronomers. MT Brück, Irish Astronomical Journal, Vol. 21(3/4), pp.281–88 (1994)

The Family Background of Annie S. D. Maunder (née Russell). MT Brück, MT. & S Grew, Irish Astronomical Journal, 1996, 23(1), 55

Women Astronomers in Britain, 1780-1930. Kidwell.P. (1984)

Obligatory amateurs: Annie Maunder (1868–1947) and British women astronomers at the dawn of professional astronomy. M.B. Ogilvie (2000)