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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

M is For

M Is For...Maria Mitchell, Astronomer

Poor Maud has drifted out to sea to be eaten by sharks and I am struggling in this A to Z Challenge. Everyone is on Q and I am on M. It's like being the fat kid who's running way behind the rest of the kids on the track in gym class. Well, I do have junk in my trunk and I am not very good at running unless I am terrified.

My choice for M is Maria Mitchell, America's first female astronomer. I love star gazing and I love reading about and promoting great women. Maria fits that description to a T. Born in Nantucket, MA in 1818, she was primarily home-schooled by her father. At age 16, she became a teaching assistant and after only one year on the job, opened her own school. At 17, she opened her own freaking school. How awesome is that? She rented her own space and advertised for students. At 17, I was screwing around and complaining about my lack of a love life. And she did this in 1835. Quite a feat considering the male domination of the time.

She was so impressive that the Nantucket Atheneum Library offered her the position of librarian. This job afforded her the time to read about and study the stars. Her father had a rooftop observatory and she helped him with his star observations for the U.S. Coast Guard. On Oct. 1, 1847, she discovered a comet and in 1848 was awarded a gold medal by the King of Denmark for her discovery. It was called Miss Mitchell's Comet and its formal designation is C/1847 T1. This comet was also discovered by Father Francesco de Vico and it was he who had been awarded the king's prize first. Figures. But, in the end she got her rightful prize.

Maria became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848. The Association for the Advancement of Science followed suit, electing her their first female member in 1850. By this time she was attending scientific conferences and held a position with the U.S. Nautical Almanac computing the tables for the position of the planet Venus.

Her achievements kept getting greater. In 1865, she became the professor of astronomy and the director of the Vassar College Observatory. The college had the third largest telescope in America at the time. She studied Jupiter and Saturn and took photos of stars. In 1869, she scored another victory for women as the first woman admitted to the American Philosophical Society.

In 1873, my girl Maria helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women. She served as president from 1874 to 1876. The first Women's Congress was held in 1873 and she was there alongside some of the most incredible women ever: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and Antoinette Brown Blackwell. In 1875 Maria led the Women's Congress.

She encouraged women and young girls to reach out and be anything they wanted to be until her death in 1889. Maria is definitely one of my heroes and she inspires me every day.

One of my favorite quotes from her:

"We especially need imagination in science.
It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is
somewhat beauty and poetry."


  1. Women heros, we do need them :)

  2. Fascinating post - I'd never heard of her before.

    The fat kid in gym class. LOL. I was always the short kid nobody wanted on their netball team!

    Ellie Garratt

  3. Never heard of her, but her achievements in astronomy are beyond impressive!

  4. I didn't know this! Cool, informative post. Love it!

  5. Es un placer pasar por tu casa,
    disculpa la ausencia,
    que tengas unas felices fiestas
    de semana santa.
    un abrazo.

  6. @Siv Yes! Women heroes are so very important, especially for young girls, but we adults need them too.

    @Ellie I had never heard of Maria until I was doing some research for a project in college and I was blown away.

    I feel for you about the netball. Being short and fat, I was not exactly top of the class. :)

  7. I love the quote. IT's so true. That's probably why she did so much--she had a great imagination.

  8. @Nebular I'm really happy you liked Maria's story. :) She inspires me so much.

    @KC Thanks! I love being able to share the stories of strong, smart women whenever I can. I wish I had known about her when I was in grade school.

  9. @Ricardo ¡Gracias! Mi español no es muy buena, pero espero que tengas un maravilloso día de fiesta también.

    @Clarissa I love this quote so much. You're right! It is so true that we forget our imagination when it comes to more logical pursuits.

  10. I've never heard of her before. Thanks for sharing. Love the quote at the end.

  11. What a fascinating person. And she is so decorated, especially in the sciences. You are so right. It is incredible for a woman to be so accomplished during such a highly prejudicial time.

    Astronomy captivates me, but I've never really explored its wonders. The mysticism of space still astounds me.

    Great "M" spotlight.

  12. Thanks so much for teaching me about Maria Mitchell. I'd not heard of her but it's clear I -- all modern women -- owe her a lot.

    I enjoy your visits to my blog so much! Thanks for leaving such wonderful comments, and forgive me for not getting over here quicker. It's been such a crazy, busy month! Have a fab afternoon!!

  13. @M.J. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. This quote hangs over my computer and inspires me.

    @Matt When I first read about Maria, I could not believe I had never heard of her before. She did so much to advance the cause for women everywhere.

    The stars are so magical aren't they? I could stare up at them for hours and hours.

    @Nicole No worries! Maria really did pave the way for us. I'm so happy you enjoyed my post. I love coming to your blog as I always enjoy your story shorts. Glad we connected and I wish you a wonderful day as well. :)

  14. An accomplished trailblazer. Is this a favorable reflection on home-schooling?

  15. there are many female scientists who never got recognition their male colleagues had.
    Beside Mitchell, there's also Mileva Maric, Serbian scientist, who was Albert Einstein's wife and who was actually responsible for most of his ideas and theories.

  16. I think you're secretly planning to skip those letters and begin again with R tomorrow!
    It's all right. You can skip!

  17. I love stargazing :D

    I loved reading this. So little attention is paid to women in history. It really is a shame.

  18. @Gail Hi! Thank you so much commenting and following. Maria certainly was a trailblazer. As for homeschooling, I never thought about it, but I do tutor my nephews and there is something to be said for more intensive studies outside of the school environment.

    @Dez I could not agree more with you. Mileva's contributions were most certainly ignored as were those of countless female scientists.

  19. @Alex Captain Alex, giving me permission to skip ahead, eh? I may take you up on that.

    @M Pax I love stargazing. Your posts actually helped inspire this as I have been fascinated by what I've been learning at your blog this month.

  20. Dude. So many points for this post. I've never heard of dear Maria and I feel like a better person now for knowing her. And that quote? Awesome. Definite badass chick. Well done!

  21. Lovely M post, informative and interesting...I never knew about her.

    Lovely meeting you via A-Z, and no worries about not being on Q..it is quality that matters, not quantity. Your M post rocks!

  22. @M Aww.. Thanks. Your words mean a lot. Maria was definitely badass, blazing a trail for us way back then like the comet she discovered. I love how she went after everything she wanted and got it.

    That quote is something else, too. I think sometimes there is a conflict between the beauty and the hard logic of science.

    @damyanti Hi! It's great to meet you here in the Challenge. Thank you so much for the supportive comment an d I am so happy that you enjoyed reading about Maria.

  23. This was extremely interesting. Maria is such an amazing woman and like you said her accomplishments were very impressive for her time since men were of dominance. She is a very inspiring woman. Thanks for introducing her!! Great post!

  24. I'm surprise there's no producer who interested to make Maria Mitchell biopic movie. I'm sure it will be as interesting as (or even more than) the story of Hypatia, a female astronomer in 4th century Roman Egypt.

  25. @Nicole I'm so happy you enjoyed reading about Maria. I've admired her for a long time and her accomplishments just astound me.

    @Jaccstev I did not know about Hypatia! Thank you so much for bringing her to my attention. I'm definitely going to be doing some reading on her very soon. I wish there would be a biopic about Maria. I could see Catherine Zeta Jones playing her.


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