BLOG: What researchers in Ireland did in 1916

Annie Maunder: Light at the end of the tunnel in 1916

Annie Scott Maunder is among the scholars and researchers who were engaged in ground-breaking research in Ireland during the turbulent year of 1916.

Born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, in 1868, Maunder – an astronomer and mathematician – was an expert in sunspots and became a renowned observer and photographer of solar eclipses.

In 1891, she was hired as one of the 'lady computers' in the solar department of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and assistant to the man who would be her future husband, Edward Walter Maunder. There, she worked on a salary of four pounds per month, in the special department that was set up to photograph the sun.

Annie married Edward Walter Maunder in 1895. She and her husband went on many solar eclipse expeditions together and were both passionate about solar science. When they married, however, Annie was forced to resign from her post at the Royal Greenwich Observatory due to restrictions on married women working in public service.

Despite this, she continued to collaborate with her husband.

The name Maunder is usually associated with the ‘butterfly diagram’, a depiction of the 11-year sunspot cycle which shows how the latitudes of sunspots change with each cycle. The chart was drawn up by both Annie and Walter in 1904.

One of Annie’s greatest achievements came in November 1916 when she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. She had first been nominated for election 24 years previously, and was appointed a Fellow a mere 10 months after the bar on female Fellows was lifted.

Annie died in 1944, almost two decades after her husband’s passing. She was regarded as an expert in eclipse photography

Annie Massy: Focused in a time of trouble

In Ireland, our daily routine can be upset by the simplest things. Roadworks and bad weather, for example, have been known to keep us from the office and disrupt a normal working day.  So imagine how difficult it would be to be productive during a time of war?

With the approaching 100-year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, we are looking back at some of the extraordinary research achievements that were underway at that time.  The fact that so many accomplished researchers continued their work during that turbulent time is an achievement in itself.

Annie Massy is among the scholars who published important work during 1916. She was a self-taught marine biologist, and an internationally-recognised expert on molluscs, in particular cephalopods.

It is thought that Massy was educated at home. She made her first contribution to Irish zoological records at the age of 18. From then on, she became a regular contributor to the Irish Naturalist journal.

Massy published three important papers in 1916. The first provided an account of the molluscs collected by the 1910 British Antarctica expedition, the Terra Nova. The second was on the cephalopoda of the Indian Museum, which included her identification of a new species of sepia (cuttlefish). Her third paper was an account of the cephalopoda collected around Ireland by the Department of Fisheries research vessel, the Helga.

Massy died following a short illness in 1931. She resigned from the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds just three days before her death.

Despite the immense cultural and social barriers, Massy succeeded in carrying out some of her most important research during the year of 1916.