Maria Mitchell was born August 1, 1818 on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts, one of ten children. Not many girls of that time were lucky enough to have a father like William Mitchell, a Quaker 4
and a dedicated astronomer and teacher himself; her mother, Lydia Coleman, urged her girls to learn occupations and seek independence. William was delighted with the early talent his daughter demonstrated for science. Instead of considering such interests useless for a girl, Maria's father did everything he could to further her knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.
As first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum, a job she started in 1836, Maria continued her studies in astronomy from her father's brand-new four-inch telescope on the roof of the Pacific Bank. He used it to do star observations for the United States Coast Guard; Maria would help him with his measurements and also got to use the telescope on her own. In 1847 she earned international renown and a gold medal from the King of Denmark when she discovered a comet from this very location.
In 1848, Maria became the first women member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and later became a fellow of the society. The Association for the Advancement of Science made her their first female member in 1850. In 1849 she was offered a job by the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office as a computer (one who does computations) of tables of positions of the planet Venus. She also started traveling to attend scientific meetings.
In 1856 she received an offer from a rich man named General Swift to accompany his daughter Prudence on a trip to the South and to Europe. Maria accepted and took her almanac work with her. They went south to New Orleans, then to London, where Maria visited the Greenwich Observatory. Prudence returned to the States, but Maria remained in Europe. She went to France on her own, then continued on to Rome with Nathaniel Hawthorne's family. She had hoped to visit the Vatican Observatory, but she was told that women were not admitted. She tried to get special permission and finally succeeded, but was allowed to go in only in the daytime. She was not able to look at the stars through the telescope at night. After her return home, she was presented with a new telescope bought with money collected by women for the first woman astronomer of the United States. She used it to study sunspots and other astronomical events. 4
Maria Mitchell was also the first person, male or female, appointed to the Vassar faculty, serving from 1865 to 1888. Mitchell was a marvelous teacher whose students adored her because she held them to a very high standard of intellectual achievement (despite the fact that they were "only" women!) and because she believed in them. Mitchell is famous for asking generation after generation of Vassar students: "Did you learn that from a book or did you observe it yourself?" 3
Vassar gave her access to a twelve-inch telescope, the third largest in the United States at the time. 4
In 1873 she attended the first meeting of the Women's Congress. The Congress was also attended by many women's rights activists, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, etc. She then helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women, a group of moderate feminists who sought expanded professional opportunities for women, serving as its president from 1874 to 1876.4
In 1878, Mitchell, her sister (Mrs. Phebe Kendall), and four Vassar graduates traveled over 2,000 miles by train in the heat of July, wrangled with stationmasters over lost luggage, pitched their tents on a hill outside Denver, Colorado, and pointed their telescopes to the center of the solar system. All that-to witness an event that would last exactly two minutes and 40 seconds. 3
Maria Mitchell retired from Vassar in 1888 because of poor health, and died on June 28, 1889 in Lynn, Massachusetts. Soon after Maria's death her friends and supporters founded the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket in 1902. In 1905 she was elected to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans at New York University (now at Bronx Community College). In 1994, she was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. The house on Nantucket where Maria was born is open to the public during the summer.1, 21 http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/95aug/mitchell.html2 http://126.96.36.199/about/maria.php3 http://physicsandastronomy.vassar.edu/mariamitchell/4 http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/biographies/mitchell.html
, Danuta Bois