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MARIA MITCHELL #WSW by Molly Hornbuckle, Marketing Communications Manager

No woman should say, "I am but a woman!" But a woman! What more can you ask to be?

With only 19 days until totality hits Nashville for the first time since 1478, I wanted to take this chance to feature one of the original “eclipse chasers,” Maria Mitchell.

Born in Massachusetts in 1818, Maria grew up in a large Quaker family and community where they valued education and insisted on giving girls the same quality of education that boys received, as one of the tenets of the religion was intellectual equality between the sexes.

When she was eleven, her father build his own school where she served as both a student and a teaching assistant. Her father would teach her astronomy using his personal telescope at home and she even helped him calculate the exact moment of an annular eclipse.

With gaining all of that knowledge at such a young age, it’s no wonder she became the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer. In October 1847, Maria established herself as the third woman ever to discover a comet – her predecessors being Caroline Herschel and Maria Margarethe Kirch. Discovering C/1847 T1, also known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”, earned her multiple accolades and worldwide fame.

Maria was the first person appointed to the Vassar College faculty as a professor of astronomy in 1865. When the “great eclipse of the nineteenth century” came around in 1869, it was the first celestial event marketed as popular entertainment – not just something for scientists to study. Maria led a small group of students to Burlington, Iowa, to experience totality and study the phenomenon.

In 1878, Maria led another group of students into totality in Denver. Known as “Miss Mitchell’s Party,” the only women present for this expedition – aside from two professors’ wives – were Maria, her sister, and four Vassar graduates. Her group journeyed over 2,000 miles by train in the late July heat, dealt with lost luggage, pitched their tents, and pointed their telescopes to the skies without worry.

A groundbreaker in the scientific community, Maria didn’t let her gender keep her from excelling in her field or from inspiring other women to break the bounds of the institution. She wasn’t afraid to go against the “norms” by insisting on equal wages for women, protesting slavery, and supporting the suffragist movement.  

Maria’s legacy is honored to this day with the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket, Mass., her spot in the U.S. National Women’s Hall of Fame, among a number of other things named for her. She was even recognized in a Google Doodle in 2013.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful quote from her eclipse experience in 1847… “No one person can give an account of this eclipse, but the specialty of each is the bit of mosaic which he contributes to the whole.”

Draw upon your own experience at totality this August and recognize the bigger picture of which we’re all involved.

-Molly Hornbuckle, Marketing Communications Manager

Is there a #WSW feature YOU want to see? Leave us a comment below!

Posted by Molly Hornbuckle at 1:30 PM
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