Maria MItchell's telescope in the Smithsonian

Inspiration In The Stars

Maria Mitchell was born in Nantucket, MA, to a Quaker family. Maria was one of ten children in a family and community where women were treated equally and given the same quality of education as men. As a child, Maria learned to use her father’s telescope and became entranced by the starry universe she viewed in the night sky.

At the age of 29, while working as a librarian, she discovered a comet, forever knows as Miss Mitchell’s Comet. She received a medal from the King of Denmark for her discovery. Her career as a scientist was officially launched and in 1848 Maria became the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This honor was quickly followed with membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1850.

By 1865 she was well established as a teacher and was awarded the first professorship of astronomy at Vassar College. However, she soon learned that even though she was also Director of the Vassar College Observatory and had decades of experience, her salary was less than that of younger male professors. She demanded and received a salary increase, a move virtually unheard of for women in her time.Maria inspires women today because of her rigorous search for knowledge, her high principles, and her strong belief in equality of the sexes. An astronomical observatory in Nantucket and a crater on the moon have both been named in her honor. She was recently fondly remembered with a Google doodle showing her gazing through her telescope in her search for comets.

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