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Maria Mitchell

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Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818June 28 1889) was an American astronomer. Born on Nantucket Island, she was a first cousin four times removed of Benjamin Franklin.

Her parents were Quakers who, unconventionally for their time, insisted on giving her the same quality of education that boys received. She worked as a librarian and also pursued astronomy at her father's observatory.

Using a telescope, she discovered "Miss Mitchell's Comet" (Comet 1847 VI, modern designation is C/1847 T1) in the autumn of 1847. Some years previously, King Frederick VI of Denmark had established gold medal prizes to each discoverer of a "telescopic comet" (too faint to be seen with the naked eye). The prize was to be awarded to the "first discoverer" of each such comet (note that comets are often independently discovered by more than one person). She duly won one of these prizes, and this gave her worldwide fame, since the only previous woman to discover a comet had been Caroline Herschel.

There was a temporary question of priority because Francesco de Vico had independently discovered the same comet two days later, but had reported it first; however, this was resolved in Mitchell's favor. The prize was awarded in 1848 by the new king Frederick VII.

Note: some biographical sources misinterpret the words "first discoverer of a telescopic comet" and report that she was the first person in history to discover a comet using a telescope. That is not the case.

She became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1850. She later worked at the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office, calculating tables of positions of Venus, and travelled in Europe with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family. She became professor of astronomy at Vassar College in 1865, the first person (male or female) appointed to the faculty. After teaching there for some time, she learned that despite her reputation and experience, her salary was less than that of many younger male professors. She insisted on a salary increase, and got it.

In 1842, she left the Quaker faith and followed Unitarian principles. In protest against slavery, she stopped wearing clothes made of cotton. She was friends with various suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women.

The Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket is named in her honor. She was also posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

External links

References

Book

  • Kendall, Phebe Mitchell. Maria Mitchell; Life, Letters and Journals. Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1896. (out of print; written by her niece)de:Maria Mitchell

gl:Maria Mitchell sl:Maria Mitchell

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