Maria Mitchell – Astonomy Pioneer


The above is a picture of Maria Mitchell, one of the first female America astronomers.  She discovered a comet, and the Mitchell crater on the moon is named after her.    She was born in 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, one of nine children of a family of Quakers.  Quakers believed that boys and girls should receive an equal education. Maria’s father was a schoolmaster, and Maria served as his teaching assistant and he taught her astronomy at home. At age twelve and a half, she aided her father in calculating the exact moment of total eclipse.

Using a telescope, she discovered “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” (Comet 1847 VI, modern designation is C/1847 T1) in the autumn of 1847. Some years previously, King Frederick VI of Denmark had established gold medal prizes to each discoverer of a “telescopic comet” (too faint to be seen with the naked eye). The prize was to be awarded to the “first discoverer” of each such comet (note that comets are often independently discovered by more than one person). She duly won one of these prizes, and this gave her worldwide fame, since the only previous woman to discover a comet had been Caroline Herschel.

She was the first professional woman astronomer in the United States, noted for her discovery that sunspots are whirling vertical cavities and not, as previously thought, clouds.

She became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1850. She later worked at the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office, calculating tables of positions of Venus, and traveled in Europe with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family.

She became professor of astronomy at Vassar College in 1865, the first person (male or female) appointed to the faculty. She was also named as Director of the Vassar College Observatory. After teaching there for some time, she learned that despite her reputation and experience, her salary was less than that of many younger male professors. She insisted on a salary increase, and got it.

She died in June 28, 1889, at the age of 71, in Lynn, Massachusetts. She was buried in Lot 411, Prospect Hill Cemetery, Nantucket. The Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket is named in her honor. She was also posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women’s Hall of Fame. She was the namesake of a World War II Liberty ship, the SS Maria Mitchell. Mitchell crater on the moon is named for her. In 1902, the Maria Mitchell Association was founded in her memory She is also known for her famous quote, “We have a hunger of the mind. We ask for all of the knowledge around us and the more we get, the more we desire.”

So welcome Maria Mitchell to the GirlMogul hall of fame.

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Thanks to Wikipedia for facts on Maria Mitchell.

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