Library/Ecology Lab Update

Crack repair in MMA Science Library Wing basement.

Crack repair in MMA Science Library Wing basement.

Work keeps progressing. Mason Wayne Morris told me that once he started, it would move quickly and he was not wrong, that’s for sure. They have made the repairs to the interior cracks in the basement of the Wing now. These cracks are probably due to the movement of the building soon after it was constructed and then in a few places, simply shrinkage caused by time. In the photographs here, you can see where they have filled the cracks with concrete – along the walls and where the walls meet the ceiling.

In one image you will notice a “faux bois” (false wood) effect to the poured concrete wall. This is on many sections of the concrete walls in the basement. What caused it? Well, the forms they made in the 1930s to pour the foundation were wood and once dry, when they pulled the wood out, beautiful wood graining was left behind. Some people would pay a lot of money to have this and in it’s on our cellar walls!

"Faux bois" concrete.

“Faux bois” concrete.

Morris also inspected the book stack supports in the cellar of the Wing which we believe are load bearing. He did this to check for rust per the structural engineer but I am happy to report they are rust free.

Now, he is back outside getting ready to replace the steel lintels at the top of the windows on the main floor. These have not had the water penetration that the basement windows have had but there is rust and thus, some cracking of the stucco. Then, he will have to make repairs to a small section on the east side where there has been some map cracking – large pattern cracking which is due to water penetration and follows the shape of the terracotta tiles below. So, in this case, the cracks form rectangles.

If you have not been up to Vestal Street to take a look, please do! We are moving along nicely on the exterior and hope to complete the plans for the interior and begin moving forward with that work. And again, a thank you to the Community Preservation Committee for the grant that has allowed us to do all of this exterior preservation work.


Hot Off the Press: The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island

Image courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Image courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Well, I finally did it. After many, many requests and at the urging of many, I published a small book. It took me a little longer than I hoped but I have managed to take my master’s thesis and put it into something I hope will start a better conversation concerning Nantucket women and give them more credit then, “they had to do it.” As the curator of the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections, it’s pretty obvious what I am up to my ears in besides historic preservation, collections care, and outreach; I also eat, sleep, and breathe Nantucket history – women, Quakers, architecture, the history of the MMA, you name it, I am constantly reading, researching, and learning about it. Do I know everything? No – I learn something new every single day. But, in my travels with Nantucket women – thus far – I have come to some new conclusions and this became the basis of my master’s thesis and thus this small book I have created. I feel that I am bringing something new to the table and I hope this helps to open the discussion. I have a lot more research and writing to do – I have only barely scratched the surface here – but I felt it was time to get that conversation going.

Books are available at several places on island, including at the MMA Gift Shops, and by contacting me. A portion of the proceeds will go to a restricted fund for the Mitchell House for conservation proposes.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

Jan 23. {1857} Foreseeing that the thermometer would show a very low point last night, we sat up until near midnight when it showed 1 ½ below zero. The starts shone brightly and the wind blew fresh from WNW. This morning the wind is the same and the mercury stood at 6 ½ below zero at 7 o’clock and now at 10 a.m. is not above zero . . . .

There are 700 barrels of flour in town, it is admitted that fresh meat is getting scarce. The streets are almost impassable from the snow drifts. There was no ice in our lodging room last night and the thermometer in the sitting room was above 40 showing that the house is not easily chilled.

The Mitchells were living at the bank and the thick walls with a brick exterior as well as perhaps some more “modern” heat sources for the main portion of the bank, likely helped keep the family warmer – much of their living space was on the second floor of the Pacific National Bank. Given their cloistered existence during the winter of 1857 (and there were others as well), the Mitchells made do with what they had were quite creative in finding new things to do and even new things to learn – from Whist to making a new pair of boots or a morning dress, Maria Mitchell, her parents, and several of the younger members of the Mitchell family used the solitude to their advantage.


Annie Jump Cannon


A few weeks ago, Annie Jump Cannon was the featured Google “doodle.” Google featured Maria Mitchell as the doodle a few years ago to celebrate her birthday and has been doing a good job of featuring well-known and lesser-known woman who have made a difference in our world.

Annie Jump Cannon was among the founding members of the MMA but she was also instrumental in the development of our astronomy program. With a growing desire to further develop a fledgling astronomy program in 1906, the MMA began a dialogue with Harvard University’s Observatory and its director, Edward Pickering, Ph.D. The connection to Harvard was to become essential to the success of the beginning years of the Maria Mitchell Observatory and continued a legacy of friendship and work – Maria Mitchell and her father worked with the Bonds who once ran the observatory at Harvard and the families were close friends.

Besides his advice and assistance, Pickering asked a member of his staff, Annie Jump Cannon to advise and assist the MMA. This “provided an indispensable collaboration for Nantucket astronomy” with Cannon spending two weeks on the island in both 1906 and 1907 lecturing and teaching. While back at Harvard, she continued to teach the students on Nantucket by mail. Cannon would go on to be recognized as the leading woman astronomer of her generation and also as the founder of the astronomy department at the MMA.

Completed in 1908, the Maria Mitchell Observatory now was in need of a permanent astronomer. An Observatory Committee was developed and chaired by Annie Jump Cannon. From 1909 through 1911, the Association was able to employ an astronomer to teach classes, observe, provide lectures, and open the observatory for public observing for approximately a month each summer. As the demand grew, the MMA realized that a more extensive program was needed and the Astronomical Fellowship Committee began to raise funds for an Astronomical Fellowship Fund. With the support of many generous donors and a matching gift from Andrew Carnegie, by 1911 the MMA had the funds it needed to support the fellowship and began its search for an astronomer who would conduct research and provide lectures, classes and open nights for the public from mid-June through mid-December. The fellow would spend the remainder four months in research and study – every fourth year a full year of study would be spent in an American or European observatory.

With Pickering, Cannon developed the Harvard Classification Scheme, an attempt to organize and classify stars by temperature. She was one of many women whom Pickering hired to reduce data and carry out astronomical calculations. She would go on to become the Curator of Astronomical Photographs at Harvard. She received a regular Harvard appointment but just two years before she retired – she was named the William C. Bond Astronomer. Today, there is the Annie Cannon Prize which is awarded to women astronomers who have made outstanding contributions in astronomy.


And We Are Around the Front!

Pillow AnchorInstall Dec.2014

Well, I am rather excited. Much of the work to the rear of the MMA Library is now completed. The chimney re-pointed, the large crack repaired, and the portion of the wall that is part of the foundation has been repaired. Today, Wayne Morris, the mason, made the large cut into the crack that runs across the north façade of the building and around the east side all the way to where the east façade meets the southern façade. Now, he will be inserting the pillow anchors and filling them with the grout. I mentioned the process in a previous post. He will not insert all of the anchors side to side but leave a space between each one that is large enough for the insertion of pillow anchors in a few days’ or a week’s time. So every other section will be blank at first. This is to make sure they set properly. Once set, he can insert the remaining anchors and fill them. He is blazing through his special wet saw blade due to the toughness and thickness of the stucco on the building. We knew this would happen based on tests – a special saw had to be purchased for this project. The photograph here shows him filling the pillow anchors – this part is easy compared to the sawing as it requires a lot of his own strength to push the saw in continually to make the cuts (exhausting and not easy).

Morris will also be pulling out the first portion of steel that sits under the windows (the lintel) – it has rusted and rotted over all these years due to water damage. He will replace the steel in portions – the entire piece cannot be removed at once or else the support of the windows will be lost. The steel was specially ordered with specific specifications, including being dipped to prevent corrosion (which the original piece had as well but that was 80 plus years ago). Morris will also place in weep holes so that if there is any water that penetrates, it will have a means of escaping so that it does not sit on the steel and rot it over time as the last piece had happen.

Stay tuned – there is more MMA Library (soon to become Ecology Lab) preservation and conservation fun to come! (Yes, this is fun – learning and fun!)


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

Dec 16, 1870

Alfred Stone,

I have a lecture on the Seven Stars of the Great Bear, which I shall be pleased to give before your “Union.” I shall probably be in Boston from Dec 22 to Jan 3d and can come down to Providence in that time, or (what I should prefer) stop at Providence on my way to Po’keepsie, and Lecture Wednesday evening Jan 4.  I have never spoken to an audience of more than 400, and am therefore glad that your hall is a small one.

My charge to a Lyceum is $50. I charge $20 to a school, and should be glad to make some engagements in schools in and around Providence.

Maria Mitchell

My address after Dec. 21 is 81 Inman St., Cambridgeport, Mass.

Alfred Stone, a prominent architect of Providence, Rhode Island invited Maria to speak. Stone was well-known and a founding partner of his architecture firm. He designed the Providence Public Library, buildings at Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, as well as numerous private homes, in addition to quite a few other private and public buildings. Her Cambridgeport address for the school holidays was that of one of her younger sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, who lived in Cambridgeport with her husband Joshua and son, William Mitchell Kendall – a young man who would become an architect with McKim, Mead, and White (see an earlier post for more on WMK). Phebe Mitchell Kendall, like Maria, was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Women, serving as the head of the Dress Reform Committee at one point; was the first woman to serve on Cambridge’s School Board; and was an artist of quite some talent, once opening an art school on Nantucket.


Maria Given More “Face Time” by the NWHM


A few posts ago, I mentioned that Maria Mitchell was being honored by the National Women’s History Museum by having an award named in her honor this year. The awardee was Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who has accomplished a great deal in her long life, including starting college at age fifteen. She is a pioneer among women and blacks in our country.

Mitchell House’s membership renewal for NWHM came across my desk today and when I opened it, I was pleased to see that a small brochure highlighting some of their awardees and other accomplished American women was included. And, as you can see, Maria Mitchell is front and center right next to Ms. Johnson. Maria was featured in a short film that the NWHM created for the award ceremony and MMA brochures went home with the hundreds of attendees at the ceremony in their gift bags. Thank you NWHM for including Maria; for honoring her and recognizing her accomplishments!


More From The Special Collections

Birds North America

While the cover of this booklet is not in wonderful shape – note the very old tape “repairs” and the further damage they have created – it is still a wonderful part of the collection with fantastic hand colored plates. It is the Birds of North America, Part 12 by Theodore Jasper, A.M., M.D. I will not go into detail – just look at the few plates I have included. They are wonderful. You don’t find this anymore.


Bird Plates

Bird Plates 2

Chamber Pot?

Chamber Pot Shards?This spring, thanks to a generous grant, we were able to replace the cedar board fence behind the Mitchell House that was in long need of replacement. It was likely from the late 1960s and did its part for a very long time. Part of the area where this fence runs was once the home of “Neighbor North” as the Peleg Mitchell Junior family called it. Neighbor North was the Mitchell family outhouse and was located in the north part of the backyard. Mary Mitchell, wife of Peleg Jr, surrounded it with nasturtiums in summer and Peleg himself planted a grape vine that grew over it (I mentioned this is a previous post).

As with any digging in the Mitchell House yard, or even a hard rain, pottery shards are often revealed and as you might know from another previous post, I love pottery shards. As you can see in this image, there is an overwhelming amount of one design of pottery and we can assume it is all from the same piece. Since it is in the area of Neighbor North, I believe this may be the remains of a chamber pot that was brought in the morning to be emptied in the outhouse but never made it back into the Mitchell House because it was dropped or accidentally shattered during the process of emptying. These are the white, blue, and brown striped shards. I have also found a straight, thick piece that could be a portion of the handle of a chamber pot. You can see other pieces too in this image. They could be chips from other chamber pots that were damaged in their emptying process or were discarded in the outhouse hole when broken. Or, simply, other pottery pieces that were tossed behind the outhouse when they were damaged beyond use or could not be made into a “make-do.” What’s a “make-do” you ask? Now that is for another blog. But keep this in mind, even the simplest and smallest piece of “trash” can tell you something about the people who came before us and what the site it is found in was used for or even the economic status of a family. A little piece of trash can be another woman’s treasure – in many ways, including knowledge!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

1872. Nov. 4. Sorosis.

Lunch was at noon, but it was noon neither mean nor apparent {a reference to mean solar time and apparent solar time} but a Sorosis noon.

Some 100 guests arrayed themselves around tables or around the walls of the room. Mrs. Wiler presided at the central table with Miss Faithfull on her right and jenny June Croty on her left. AT the same table were Dr. Emily Blackwell, Dr. Mary Putnam and Mrs. Bullan of the Revolution . . . . A question for discussion then came up whether most good would be exerted by Sorosis if it had a special aim or aimed only at a general expression of views . . . .

Maria Mitchell was one of the founding members of SOROSIS, a woman’s group that formed in 1869 in response to female journalists being barred from a press conference and dinner held for Charles Dickens on his first trip to the United States. In response, women reporters, authors, educators, doctors, and scientists and others came together at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City, forming Sorosis where women could discuss topics of the day and further the educational and social activities of its women members and other women so that all could be helped. It was the first professional women’s club in the US. Sorosis would expand to have smaller groups around the country, including here on Nantucket, and island born women such as Anna Gardner and the Reverend Phebe Hanaford were members. Maria’s humor is readily apparent – note her beginning lines – obviously Sorosis meetings and luncheons did not start on time.