Maria Mitchell
Nantucket Events Nantucket History & People

Happy Birthday, Maria

Join the Maria Mitchell Association as it hosts a celebration of Maria Mitchell’s 205th birthday this Tuesday afternoon, August 1 on Vestal Street. From 1 pm to 4 pm, this free event willl offer astronomy and natural science activities, live animal displays, research demonstrations, face painting, live music by Susan Berman and Ray Saunders, and free admission to the Maria Mitchell Association Vestal Street Museums.

The Maria Mitchell Association is named after America’s first female astronomer, Maria Mitchell, who was born and raised on Nantucket Island. Born to Quaker parents, she was an avid learner. The Quaker tradition taught that both boys and girls should be educated, and Maria received an education at local schools and from her father’s schools and home tutoring. Maria developed her love of astronomy from her father’s instruction on astronomy, mathematics, surveying and navigation. At age 12, Maria helped her father to calculate the position of their home by observing a solar eclipse. By 14, ship captains trusted her to rate their ships’ chronometers for their long whaling journeys. Maria pursued her love of learning as a young woman, becoming the Nantucket Atheneum’s first librarian. She and her father continued to acquire astronomical equipment and conduct observations, working for the US Coast Survey among other entities.

Mitchell is known for discovering a comet in October 1847, while sweeping the skies using a telescope in the rooftop observatory atop the Pacific National Bank on Main Street. She went on to become the first female professor at Vassar College, where she was an inspiration to her students. She believed in learning by doing and in the capacity of women to achieve what their male counterparts could. “Miss Mitchell” was beloved by her students whom she taught until her retirement, due to failing health, in 1888. She died in 1889 and was buried next to her parents in the family plot at Nantucket’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.

The Maria Mitchell Association is a private non-profit organization. Founded in 1902, the MMA works to preserve the legacy of this Nantucket native astronomer, naturalist, librarian, and educator. The Maria Mitchell Association operates two observatories, a natural science museum, an aquarium, a research center, and preserves the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell. A wide variety of science and history-related programming is offered throughout the year for people of all ages.

Articles by Date from 2012