Maria Mitchell, the United States’ First Professional Woman Astronomer

“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry.” —Maria Mitchell

Born: August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts
Died: June 28, 1889 in Lynn, Massachusetts

Maria Mitchell was the first woman to be acknowledged as a professional astronomer in the United States. In 1847, on a clear autumn night, she discovered a comet, which is known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”, by using a telescope and earned a gold medal from King Frederick VII of Denmark. The gold medal read, ‘Not in vain do we watch the setting and rising of the stars”.

Mitchell was born on August 1, 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts to a dedicated astronomer and teacher William Mitchell and Lydia Coleman Mitchell. On completion of her early education from Elizabeth Gardener’s small school, she was admitted to the North Grammar school where her father William Mitchell was the first principal. She was largely encouraged and taught by her father at home. Later, she attended Unitarian minister Cyrus Peirce’s school where she also worked as teaching assistant of Peirce. In 1836, she was appointed as the first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum where she spent serving long eighteen years. In 1865 she joined Vassar College as the professor of astronomy and she was the first woman ever to be appointed to the faculty. Later, she became the Director of the Vassar College Observatory. Her outstanding contribution and achievement encouraged several other women of her time to take astronomy as a career.

Mitchell became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848 and she was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1905. From 1865 to 1888 she was the professor of astronomy at Vassar College and in 1875 she was elected as the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women. On June 28, 1889 in Lynn, Massachusetts she died at the age of 70.

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Maria Mitchell Quotes:

“Study as if you were going to live forever; live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

“There is no cosmetic for beauty like happiness.”

“The world of learning is so broad, and the human soul is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us.”

“We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire; the more we see, the more we are capable of seeing.”