Lights, Cameras, Make-Up!

If you have taken a stroll or drive-by, you may have noticed that the Mitchell House has been the center of attention on Vestal Street over the past few months!

Thanks to a generous matching grant from Preservation Massachusetts and the 1772 Foundation, in addition to the match from the  M. S. Worthington Foundation, the Mitchell House has had all of its historic sashes re-glazed and painted, as well as its doors and trim!  Some minor repairs had to be made to the front porch and an attic window sash but all in all, the House is in good shape and happy to be boasting a better paint job!

The painting was completed by island painter Jim Tyler and his crew – long-time painters at the MMA.  And the window sash was addressed by our carpenter who focuses on historic properties, Matthew Anderson.

If you think it looks a little darker than before, you are correct.  The paint had seriously faded.  This is the color the House has always been – well, at least for a hundred or more years.  At one point, it was brown but probably not during the William and Lydia Coleman Mitchell (Maria’s parents) ownership – likely the Peleg Mitchell Junior time or when his wife lived in the House just in the summers.  The curators before me had not tracked the color number and I did remember it being more grey – and we do have photographs – but I finally found a good paint chip while we were making some repairs to the roofwalk hatch!

Thank you to Preservation Massachusetts, the 1772 Foundation, the M. S. Worthington Foundation and the people who completed the work!  Mitchell House is ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Nov. 14, 1855.  Last night I heard Emerson give a lecture.  I pity the reporter who attempts to give it to the world.  I began to listen with a determination to remember it in order, but it was without method order or system.  It was like a beam of light moving in the undulatory waves meeting with occasional meteors in its path.  It was exceedingly uplifting.

Not what you expected at the end when you read the beginning.  Maria never minced words – as you may recall from the blog about Dr. Allen – the Vassar College physician that I mentioned in October – and other examples that I have noted.  Henry David Thoreau was definitely one who  Maria was frustrated by – he spoke at the Atheneum as well when she was librarian.  As did many luminaries of the time.  The Mitchell family ran in these circles – even if on the periphery.  Name the scientist, author, poet, philosopher, mathematician – Maria and her family rubbed elbows with them, exchanged letters and pleasantries, and stopped for awhile for a visit.  The Mitchell family was truly engaged and active in these groups they just maybe did not toot their own horns so to speak – call it the Quaker in them.


Living, Breathing

I think I have mentioned this before.  The ticking of the tall case clock in the Mitchell House, its ringing on the hour, always makes me feel like the Mitchell House is alive.  It is when I have to stop the clock for the winter that the House goes dormant.  It’s a sound that I become quite use to when it is running – the ticking and ringing.  It always makes me chuckle to myself when the Mitchell House intern first starts work in late May.  It takes them a few weeks to discern the difference between the clock and the front door bell but then, they get it.  (Don’t worry – I don’t let them “run” for the door – I tell them, “No!  It’s the clock.  You’ll get used to the difference.)

The tall case was a wedding gift from William Mitchell’s parents to William and Lydia on their wedding day.  Made in Boston by John Deverell in 1789, it’s a year older than the House.  William and Lydia gave the clock to Phebe Mitchell Kendall upon her marriage in 1854.  Phebe left t to her only child, William Mitchell Kendall who then left it to the Mitchell House in his estate in 1941.  I am not sure how William’s parents came to the clock – perhaps it was their clock as William and Lydia married in 1812 so by then the tall case (no, not called a grandfather clock!) was twenty-three years old.

On its face it rotates the phases of the Moon and shows the seconds and the date.  It’s a seven-day clock, but I wind it twice per week (always, holding my breath as it is 231 years old!)  It has wonderful inlays around the bonnet top and the case where the door to the pendulum and weights are located.  And its face is enameled.  It’s a simple – very appropriate for a Quaker family – tall case clock with just a touch of “extras” – a bit of color and a bit of decoration.

I put it to bed a few weeks ago – I wait pretty far into the fall as I hate to stop it.  But when I do, I tell it to have a good winter and that I will see it when I wake it in the spring.


Who Did This?

I may have written about this before.  Lydia Coleman Mitchell, Maria Mitchell’s mother – and the mother of ten children in all – has a small, simple writing desk.  It has several drawers and a flip down top.  It has two compartments where papers and ink can be stored – and in the case of Lydia, the nib of your pen can be mightily sharpened (it’s a HUGE gouge she created!).

This fall, as I do each fall once the humidity is low, I waxed it with an appropriate conservation wax.  And while doing so, I realized that I had forgotten all about the back compartment.  It has little pigeon-hole cubbies and another news article similar to what she pasted in the front compartment.  I am not sure how I forgot about this – but I’ve been in the Mitchell House for quite some time and my brain seems to be overflowing with things.  So it was sort of a re-discovery I guess you would call it.

The interesting thing is that this was not Lydia doing the pasting of an article this time.  Note the “1862” inked next to the article – which had to be pasted in sideways as the other one was.  (I think that I have noted that when I transcribed the first many years ago, it was before mobile phones so taking a photograph was near impossible with trying to focus, light, and so on.  Thus, I sat scrunched over in a chair with a pencil and paper holding the desk with one hand and scribbling with the other – the curator at the time said I looked like a pretzel!  This time, iPhone in hand and, “Voila!”)  Lydia died in 1861 and by 1862, Maria and her father, William, were living in Lynn, MA.  I think the writing in the desk on this side is William’s own!  Interesting.  So, perhaps he was continuing the trend – perhaps he knew she would do this if she were alive, perhaps it was a way to keep her memory going, perhaps it was a way for him to show her what he had done.  I’m not sure what was happening here or the intentions but I’m not sure it’s really about William boasting as it is about him loving and missing Lydia. So, while we do not know, that’s the story I will stick to in my mind.


MMWSS 2020 Headquarters

So, with our virtual online shortened version of the Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium this year, I was faced with a bit of a conundrum.  I thought it most appropriate to station myself in the Mitchell House.  Anywhere else, didn’t seem quite right to me.  But, the Mitchell House has no electricity and nowhere to sit or set up.  Plus, the further I get from the electricity and WiFi in my office, the harder it is – the WiFi does not work well and I need power!

This was my solution.  I was in the 1825 Kitchen.  I would have rather been in the Front Sitting Room, but I managed to have Maria’s Dolland telescope in the Kitchen and set myself up with my small scaffold that I use for doing some larger conservation projects in the House.  Worked pretty well – and while the chair looks like it is part of the collection – it is not.  This is what I have mentioned before – the only “sitable onable chair” (as I like to call it) in the entire House.  Used by volunteers, visitors who may need a break, and even myself when I have something I can work on in a chair with no electricity!

It worked pretty well.  And if you have not done so already, the recording of the MMWSS is available for you to watch here.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Oct. 25, 1875 . . . I have scarcely got over the tire of the congress yet, although it is a week since I returned . . . . It was a grand affair, and babies came in arms.  School-boys stood close to the platform and school-girls came, books in hand.  The hall . . . could hold at least one thousand seven hundred.  It was packed and jammed . . . . When I had to speak to announce a paper I stood very still until they became quiet.  Once I had stood that way, a man at the extreme rear, before I had spoken a word, shouted out, “Louder!”  We all burst into a laugh.

Maria was now the president of the Association for the Advancement of Women (AAW).  This was its annual meeting in 1875.  One of the founders of the AAW, Maria would also found its Science Committee which she would chair for life.  Her sisters and sister-in-laws were members.  Her sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, chaired the Women’s Dress Reform Committee – if you know anything about “bloomers” this is, in part, where it happened.  I like to wonder if her Quaker upbringing provided her with any oratory skills.  With some empowerment from watching other women stand up in Quaker meeting to address the meeting.  Lucretia Coffin Mott stated that was something that gave her strength and confidence – watching women standing in Quaker meeting and addressing the gathering.  The Reverend Phebe Coffin Hanaford implied the same – and as a young girl she stood on an apple box to speak to her “meeting” – her large gathering of siblings.


Accession Labels As Memory

This summer has obviously been a lot different at the Mitchell House.  The House is closed.  I am all alone inside.  It is incredibly quiet – just the voices of occasional passersby, children on bikes, a car.  I’m alone with my thoughts as I quietly work on projects that need to be done every year.  And I am working on projects that need to be done periodically – though not every year –  and this summer allowed me to focus on those projects in particular.

As I sit and work on various small cleaning and conservation projects, memories come back.  Handling a large piece of crockery to do a more in-depth cleaning, I gently turn it over to find its accession label.  I know the person’s handwriting for most of these labels and sometimes I catch my breath – many of these people are now gone.  And while they were very much a part of the Mitchell House and the MMA, they were also a part of my world, my growing up, and they are still a part of me.  They were my mentors, my friends.  When I started volunteering at age twelve, I would be regaled with stories of the Mitchells by women who had been friends with Maria Mitchell’s cousins.  Those stories not only continue in me – I pass them on to whomever comes in contact with the Mitchell House – interns, volunteers, visitors, MMA staff.  In that way, Maria and her family – and those women who told me the stories – live on and their stories are made even more real.

So, my time at the Mitchell House is a little different, and at times, a bit more personal.  But, I think that is another layer that makes the MMA the special place that it is.  That personal touch; that almost direct reach back to Maria and her cousins.  The MMA has a heart and soul that lives on even though all of those people are no longer with us – not just our namesake but the people who built the Association in her honor and to promote and preserve her legacy and home.


A MMWSS Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined us for our “mini” online version of the Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium.  It was sad to not be in-person for a two-day event but I believe – and people have said – that it was a wonderful experience.

A special thanks to our keynote Catalina Martinez and to our panelists: Dorene Price, Amy Bower, Serra Hoagland, and Sabine von Sengbusch.  And thank you to our MMWSS co-chairs Gwyneth Packard and Joe Santucci as well as out presenters Celia Mulcahey and Jocelyn Navarro.  And another thank you to Gwyneth Packard who also acted as our moderator.

We must not forget our sponsors who support this online effort: The American Astronomical Society, Novartis, and the Tupancy-Harris Foundation of 1986.

It was an inspiring, emotional and educational three hours and though we were spread across the country and the world (yes, the world), we were able to overcome ZOOM issues that come about with such a gathering and come together.

We hope you can join us in 2021 when we hope to meet in person September 23-25, 2021.  And shortly, we will have the recorded meeting available for everyone.

Keep your eyes on the MMWSS website at for the recording and for more information about 2021.  Be well!


October 1st – Comet Discovered

10mo 1, 1847.  {October 1, 1847}   This evening at half past ten Maria discovered a telescopic comet five degrees above Polaris.  Persuaded that no nebulae could occupy that position unnoticed it scarcely needed the evidence of motion to give it the character of a comet.

From the journals of William Mitchell, father of Maria.


“Science Needs Women”

The Maria Mitchell (Virtual) Women of Science Symposium October 2, 2020 1-4PM

In my younger days when I was pained by half educated, loose and inaccurate ways which we all had, I used to say, ‘How much women need exact science.’  But since I have known some workers in science who were not always true to the teaching of nature, who have loved self    more than science, I have said, ‘How much science needs women.’  – Maria Mitchell

In 2018, in part to honor Maria Mitchell’s 200th birthday’s anniversary, the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association hosted its first Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  It was a fabulous success with a sold out crowd – and a wait list. We welcomed women and men from around the country and at all levels of their STEM path – from undergraduates to early and mid-career to late-career and retirees.  All were active in STEM whether it be as a mathematician, a professor, a middle school teacher, an engineer, or an undergraduate student – all came together to discuss the place of and difficulties for women in STEM.  We heard from women leaders in STEM at all stages of their careers and met in small salon discussion groups to developed real-word solutions to bring back to our places of work and education.  It was an exhilarating and rewarding experience and one that was incredibly well-received.

While we had intended to meet for a two-day event again this year, the COVID-19/Coronavirus Pandemic brought that plan to a halt (And, we all need to be safe and cautious so it’s a good halt!).  Happily, we were able to create a mini-online version which we will be hosting on October 2 from 1-4PM.  It is FREE but registration is required at .  While it will be different, not meeting and working together in-person, we hope this will give people an idea of what the MMWSS is all about.  Our focus for this shortened event will be on diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality with a keynote and one panel discussion.  More information about these incredible women in STEM who will be joining us can be found at the MMWSS website – where you can also register to join us and what is already well over 200 attendees!

I’d like to share with you two anonymous testimonials from two undergraduate women in STEM who joined us at the first MMWSS in 2018 – they are in the early stages of their STEM path and their words give you a sense of what everyone in attendance was feeling and what they gained:

The Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium (MMWSS) was an incredible, empowering experience . . . . during the salons I had the opportunity to interact with the symposium attendees on a more intimate level and discuss these issues in detail. The salons were the highlight of the entire event for me; this unique format allowed me to learn about the specific experiences of other women in STEM and brainstorm ideas for solutions to problems. It was also very empowering for me, a young graduate student, to be able to contribute to discussions in this small group setting and have my input valued by the other, more senior members of the group. This symposium provided me with a wonderful opportunity to network with female mentors and also to be a mentor to younger, undergraduate students.

Attending the Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium was a truly transformative experience for me. To be in a space filled with women and allies for women in the STEM field was honestly overwhelming at first. As an undergraduate, I am a beginner and I used to think that I needed to have more experience or education before I could help facilitate change within the STEM community. After being a part of this conference, I am now in touch with my personal power and I was shown that advocates need to be at every level. I no longer feel the need to wait to start doing outreach, and I have already started working with a science teacher (remotely).

Many of 2018’s attendees, speakers, and panelists will be with us in attendance so we hope you can join us for this important and ongoing conversation as we make sure we support and find ways to bring everyone to the STEM table!