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."