History's Women: Miscellaneous Articles: Maria Mitchell, Pioneer Woman AstronomerMaria Mitchell
Pioneer Woman Astronomer
1818 – 1889 A.D.

In the field of science Miss Mitchell is the American pioneer. Hundreds of women have in recent years distinguished themselves in scientific pursuits, but we are always interested in pioneers.

For patient, plodding, persistent work, few have surpassed Maria Mitchell. She was born in Nantucket, and, as the land has few fellow attractions, the people were natural observers of sea and sky. Maria was one of them. Again, 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 Athenæum at a salary of one hundred dollars per year. Of this she was able to lay aside a portion for her 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 King of Denmark had offered a gold medal for such a discovery and was instrumental in securing it for Miss Mitchell.

She subsequently visited Europe and was well received by such leading scientist as Sedgwick, Challis, Adams, Herschel, and Arnott, as well as by many of the literary leaders. Her best years were given as professor of Vassar College, where she rendered most acceptable service.

Her father was with her and his closing years were gladdened by seeing his daughter an honored teacher of the science of astronomy, the first lesson in which a person in which she received from him.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.

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