Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell
Pioneer Scientist


Maria Mitchell was a pioneer in the field of science. Hundreds of women have over the years distinguished themselves in scientific pursuits, but Maria was one of the first to do so.

Maria was very patient, plodding, and persistent in her work and few have surpassed her in effort. She was born in Nantucket, and, as the land had few attractions, many of the people were natural observers of sea and sky. Maria was one of them. Her father was for years engaged in scientific pursuits in connection with his work of teaching. He was a man of superior intellect, but of meager income. He established a small observatory and earned one hundred dollars per year by astronomical work for the United States Coast Survey.

Maria looked back upon her girlhood days as “an endless washing of dishes”, and yet, she managed to study a great deal. She was for many years librarian of the little Nantucket Athenaeum at a salary of one hundred dollars per year. Of this she was able to lay aside a portion for future studies.

So she toiled on, studying and observing in astronomical lines. When she was nearly thirty years of age, fame came to her as a result of her work. She discovered a telescopic comet. Her father communicated the discovery to Professor Bond of Cambridge. Edward Everett, president of Harvard College, learned that the Kind of Denmark had offered a gold medal for such a discovery and was instrumental in securing it for Miss Mitchell.

After this award, Maria visited Europe and was well received by such leading scientists as Sedgwick, Challis, Adams, Herschel, and Arnott, as well as by many of the literary leaders. Her best years were given as professor of astronomy is Vassar College, where she rendered a great service.

Her father was with her and his closing years were made glad by seeing his daughter being honored as a teacher of the science of astronomy, the fist lesson in which she had received from him.