“Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.“
Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) became the first American woman to discover a comet when she observed what became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”. The first professional female astronomer in America, Mitchell was raised by Quaker parents who believed, contrary to the practice of the time, in giving girls the same quality of education as boys. She later adopted Unitarianism. Her father, a school principal, taught her the basics of astronomy and, at age 12, she helped him to calculate the moment of an annular eclipse.
In the autumn of 1847, her discovery of the comet — made her famous worldwide and she was awarded a gold medal prize for the discovery from King Frederick VII of Denmark. In 1865, she became a professor of astronomy at Vassar College and was named the Director of the Vassar Observatory.
Among her many honors, Mitchell 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 also co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women. Today, her legacy lives on at the Maria Mitchell Observatory, named in her honor in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
The Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket is named in her honor. The crater Mitchell on the Moon is named after her. In 1902, the Maria Mitchell Association was founded in her memory.
Picture: Maria Mitchell, US astronomer and pioneer of women’s rights, from a portrait by H. Dassell, 1851