Maria Mitchell

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This paper will discuss the life of Maria Mitchell and how she became the first woman astronomer in the United States. It will tell of where she grew up. How she climbed the ranks to achieve her goals and how she came into discovering her true passion of astronomy. By describing the events that made this courageous woman, we can see clearly how she set an example for her gender in the Nineteenth century.

Women have always been at the forefronts of science, even though they have not always taken the credit for it. One of the defining marks of humanity is our ability to affect and predict our environment. Science - the creation of structure for our world - technology - the use of structure in our world - and mathematics - the common language of structure - all have been part of our human progress, through every step of our path to the present. Women and men together have researched and solved each emerging need. But in beginning of this paper, we will begin at the beginning and reveal the location of her birthplace to tell of her origins to seek the woman who broke many gender stereotypes.

Maria Mitchell, an American astronomer, “was born August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, USA.” (McPherson p.12) Her father, a member of the Quaker religion felt strongly that girls should receive education equal to that of boys. When Maria was sixteen she was already a teaching assistant to a schoolmaster. “It was this strict schoolmaster that gave Maria the advantage over the others,” (Weatherford p.144) in that she could quickly find problems and solve them. He was Cyrus Peirce, the founder of the first normal school in America, nowadays called a teacher's college. When she was seventeen she decided to open a school of her own. She rented a room and put an advertisement in the newspaper. The school closed after a year when Maria was offered a job as a librarian of Nantucket's Atheneum Library. This job was perfect for her, because she was earning a good salary and had time to study and read books. Her father also was “hired as cashier of the Pacific Bank.” (p.54) With his new job came the living quarters attached to the bank. Mr. Mitchell built an observatory on the roof and installed a brand-new four-inch telescope. He used it to do star observations for the United States Coast Guard and Maria helped her father with the measurements.

One night in the Au...

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...ollege. A crater on the moon was named for her. Posthumously, a tablet with her name was put in the New York University Hall of Fame, her name was carved in a frieze at the Boston Public Library, and she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. With all of these accomplishments in her career, it is not a wonder that she became the first woman astronomer in the United States of America. By proving herself worthy of what a man could do, she excelled beyond the call of duty and met all of the criteria that a man was supposedly only capable of doing. By having the courage and faith to do what she loved, she set the example for many women in the future to rise through the ranks of men and become just as successful.


Gormley, Beatrice, Maria Mitchell: The Soul of an Astronomer, Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company, December 1995.

McPherson, Stephanie, Hetty Mitchell (Illustrator), Rooftop Astronomer: A Story about Maria Mitchell Lerner Publishing Group, The, June 1990.

Mitchell Kendall, Phebe, Lee and Shepard, Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters and Journals, 1896.

Weatherford, Doris, American Women's History, Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994.
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