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24th of March 2021
Women's History Month: Maria Mitchell
by Chenoa Tremblay
Maria Mitchell was the first internationally known women to work as both a professional astronomer and Professor of Astronomy. She was the first women elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for Advancement of Science. In 1847 she discovered a comet known as 1847 VI (C/1847 T1) using a Dollond refracting telescope. The comet was later designated as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” in her honour and she received a gold medal for her discovery from King Christian VIII of Denmark.

Maria was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts to parents of a library worker, schoolteacher and amateur astronomer and was raised in the Quaker religion. From an early age, Maria showed both a talent and interest in astronomy which led her father to teach her how to use chronometers, sextants, simple refracting telescopes and Dollond telescopes. Not only did she become a renowned school teacher, principal and later elected as a professor at Vassar College, she practiced experimental teaching methods and found ways to allow non-white children to attend her school, a controversial move when public school was still segregated. The image above shows Maria Mitchell (seated) inside the dome of the Vassar College Observatory, with her student Mary Watson Whitney (standing), circa 1877. The image is from “Heroes of Progress” by Eva March Tappan. To learn more about Maria Mitchell and her unique teaching and progressive ideas, check out the book “Figuring” by Maria Popova.

March is Women's History Month and this week we are celebrating the careers of women in science.

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