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Maria Mitchell

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MARIA MITCHELL

The person that I chose for the Womens History Month report is Maria Mitchell, who was a self- taught astronomer. She discovered Comet Mitchell and made amazing achievements throughout her life. Maria Mitchell was born on August 1, 1818 on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket to William and Lydia Mitchell. When Maria Mitchell was growing up in the Quaker community, few girls were allowed to study astronomy and higher mathematics. Even though the Mitchell's weren't rich Maria's father, a devoted amateur( most astronomers of that time were amateurs) astronomer, introduced her to mathematics and the night sky. He also encouraged her toward teaching and passed on a sense of God as in the natural world. By the time Maria was sixteen, she was a teacher of mathematics at Cyrus Pierce's school for young ladies where she used to be a student. Following that she opened a grammar school of her own. And only a year after that, at the age of eighteen she was offered a job as a librarian at Nantucket's Atheneum during the day when it opened to the public in the fall of 1836. At the Atheneum she taught herself astronomy by reading books on mathematics and science. At night she regularly studied the sky through her father's telesscope. For her college education even Harvard couldn't have given her a better education than she received at home and at that time astronomy in America was very behind as of today. She kept studying at the Atheneum, discussed astronomy with scientists who visited Nantucket (including William C. Bond), and kept studying the sky through her father's lent telescope.

In the mid-nineteenth century, new developments in astronomy were expanding the field at an fast and exciting rate. The Mitchells were aware that the King of Denmark awarded a gold metal to anyone who discovered a "telescopic" comet. No one in America had won that award yet.

On the night of October 1, 1847 Maria Mitchell discovered a comet just above the North Star. But by the time her letter of discovery reached William Bond (director of the Harvard Observatory) Father de Vico at the Vatican Observatory in Rome had already announced his discovery of the same comet on October 3. Professor Bond began a campaign to get Maria her rightful award.

On October 6, 1848, a year and five days later the King of Denmark decided to award the prize to Maria.
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