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(1818-1889) THIS GREATEST AMERICAN SCIENTIST OF THE 19TH CENTURY NOT ONLY FOLLOWED HER OWN STAR SHE SPENT A LIFETIME OPENING DOORS SO GENERATIONS OF WOMEN COULD FOLLOW THEIRS.
Even as a child, Maria Mitchell found beauty in the stars. She shared her passion for the sky with her father. William Mitchell, a bank cashier and astronomer was a Quaker who insisted on educating his sons and daughters equally..all ten of them. He built an observatory on the roof of his office on Nantucket's Pacific Bank where he worked. There, young Maria helped him make star observations for the U.S. Coast Guard Survey. Maria spent hours in the observatory.
At 12, she helped record an eclipse. By 17 Maria Mitchell had started her own girls school encouraging other young women to take part in the world. She later took a job in a Nantucket library so she could devote more time to her own studies and her work in the observatory. Then, in 1847, using a 2 3/4 inch telescope, 29 year old Maria Mitchell became the first American to record a comet. In that instant her life changed. The King of Denmark awarded her a gold medal. She became the first woman voted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and later, into the American Association For the Advancement of Science.
Maria traveled the world. She was the first woman admitted to the Vatican observatory but officials refused to let a woman in at night to observe the stars. She returned home to Nantucket, and acquired a new telescope purchased with donations from a group called Women of America (there were some men involved) as a gift for the nations first female astronomer.
But Maria's greatest contributions were yet to come. Vassar Women's college made her the nations first female astronomy professor. She ran a state of the art observatory built especially for her. At Vassar, and as a member of the first Women's Congress in Seneca Falls, New York, Maria Mitchell was a strong advocate for women's rights.
"The eye that directs the needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery, she wrote, will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer."
Credits: Image is courtesy of the Maria Mitchell Association.
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