Maria Mitchell (b. 1818, d. 1889 ) was an American astronomer, professor, and advocate for the higher education of women.
Born on the island of Nantucket—a seafaring community where the science of navigation was a matter of life and death—Maria learned mathematics and astronomy from her self-taught father. She won widespread recognition in 1847 for discovering a new comet—an achievement which earned her a gold medal from the King of Denmark and delighted the president of Harvard College, who considered it a triumph that a girl from Nantucket should win the prize ahead of all the most esteemed astronomers and observatories in Europe.
In 1862 Maria Mitchell became Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, one of the first American colleges for women. She urged her students to question everything, even the most trusted authorities. “Can the study of truth do harm?” she demanded. “Does not every true scientist seek only to know the truth? And in our deep ignorance of what is truth, shall we dread the searching after it?”
An outspoken advocate for the advancement of women in science, Maria Mitchell was the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the first woman to be hired by the U.S. government for scientific work. Despite her many accomplishments, Maria did not have an over-inflated sense of herself. Acknowledging the power of discipline and hard work, she declared, “I was born of only ordinary capacity, but of extraordinary persistency.”
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About the author:
Laura Alary is a writer, reader, and all-round curious person. She has loved books since she was barely big enough to clamber up the steps to the bookmobile that rolled into her Halifax neighborhood once a week. At school, she made her own books out of manila paper, mucilage and crayons. The first story she can remember writing was about a little girl who kept spilling paint and having to figure out how to turn the messes into pictures (a good rule for life).
These days, Laura considers herself very lucky to work in a beautiful library and write her own books. Her latest is What Grew in Larry’s Garden (Kids Can Press, 2020), and she is anticipating the publication of two new picture book biographies about Maria Mitchell and Cecilia Payne. You can find Laura and her books online at www.lauraalary.ca (Twitter@LauraAlary1).
And, Finally …
Here is an affiliate link to an outstanding book about Maria Mitchell written by Laura Alary. It is called, The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything, and it would be a great book to go along with your new shirt. As an affiliate link, I would earn a commission if you buy the book after clicking the link.
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