by Catherine Macallister
The world of learning is so broad, and the human soul is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us.”Maria Mitchell
Vestal Street transforms every year on August 1 into a celebration with games, food, activities, music, and festivities during an annual event to acknowledge the birthday of Maria Mitchell, a Nantucket-born astronomer who discovered a comet and was renowned in her field as the first female astronomer. Every year, the Maria Mitchell Association hosts a birthday party in her honor celebrating the woman of firsts: first professional female astronomer, first member first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum, first professor hired at Vassar College—an accomplished career for the astronomer who was born 201 years ago.
Maria Mitchell was born on August 1, 1818, to parents William and Lydia Mitchell. Surrounded by nine other siblings, Maria took to school, propelled forward by the Quaker belief that education should be provided to all, equally. Her father, an astronomer himself, was instrumental in helping Maria bring her scientific prowess to fruition. She worked as the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, using her many hours there, to continue educating herself and expanding her knowledge of the world. One evening on October 1, 1847, atop the Pacific National Bank, Maria made an important discovery: a new comet. For her findings, she was awarded a gold medal and inducted as the first female in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. After this monumental discovery, she traveled the world before beginning her post at Vassar College as a Professor of Astronomy in 1865, where she taught and mentored young women, instilling the importance of universal education for all. A life well worth a yearly celebration, Maria Mitchell’s legacy lives on and continues to inspire science and educational communities, especially on Nantucket.
This year’s celebration hosted by the Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) will include astronomy and family activities, live animal displays, punch and cookies, and Apollo 11 activities such as creating your own lunar module. Inside the museum, visitors will be able try out the topographic table, wind tunnel, and check out the new Tree Exhibit made possible by the Nantucket Garden Club. Special performances include Susan Berman and the Nanpuppets. Additionally, the Pop-Up Science cart will be at the celebration, offering exciting science activities for kids of all ages. The event is free to attendees and all of the Vestal Street MMA sites will be open to the public, too. The party starts at 1 pm and runs until 4 pm so come ready to celebrate the legacy of Miss Maria Mitchell.
Parking in the Vestal Street area can be challenging, so consider walking to the event: the location is a few blocks from downtown Nantucket, just beyond the Civil War Monument on upper Main Street.
The Maria Mitchell Association has been celebrating the life, discoveries, and research accomplished by Maria Mitchell since its inception in 1902. To this day MMA remains a vital part of the Nantucket community, striving to keep education within reach of the Nantucket community and visitors while keeping the memory of Maria Mitchell alive.