Maria Mitchell

"Please be quiet I'm trying to read." Maria Mitchell was born August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. As a young girl Maria was inspired by her father to be an astronomer. Her dad was a Quaker and he felt that girls deserved as good an education as boys and he taught her a lot about astronomy. When Maria was only 12 she helped her father record the times of an eclipse. At 17 she created her own school for girls where she taught them science and math. Maria became a librarian at Nantucket Athenaeum, there she read more about astronomy and stars. She loved to look up at the stars. If the fall of 1847 she saw something new in the sky that was not there before. She watched the skies for several nights and by recording where the star was each night she knew it was moving and was not a star. She knew it had to be a comet. She became the first person to record a comet sighting in the United States on October 1, 1847. The comet was named "Miss Mitchell's Comet," and she was awarded a gold medal for her discovery.  

 In 1860, she and her dad moved to Lynn, New York where Matthew Vassar asked her to become a professor at his new women's college. Maria Mitchell became a professor in astronomy at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1865. She taught at Vassar until she retired in 1888. Maria installed her own telescope in her observatory at her house. 

During her life Maria campaigned for women's right to vote and fought for women's equality in the science and academic organizations. Maria Mitchell died on June 28, 1889 in Lynn, Massachusetts. After she died an observatory, a library, and a research center for scientists was created as part of her former home in Massachusetts. 

Image courtesy of the Maria Mitchell Association

By Michael L., Michael M. & Jonathan M., fourth grade, 2004