Thank You!

The MMA owes a big thank you to all the people who have completed the work on making the Science Library a research center for future generations of Nantucketers and visitors alike.

Greg Maskell Landscaping Matt Anderson Carpentry

Kevin Wiggin HVAC Jim Tyler and Crew, Painting

Island Gas and Christian Yates Milton Rowland Architects

Jim Badera and Badera Engineering Kevin O’Keefe, volunteering

Mike Freedman and Crew, Cabinetmaker Pen Austin, Masonry and Paint Coatings

Jon Vollans and Vollans Electric Marden Plumbing

Wayne Morris, Mason Evita Caune, basement floor refinishing

Pioneer Cleaning, cleaning and waxing floors David Ryan

Delta Designs Ltd. Toscana Corporation

Ellis and Schneider Electrical Wayne Alarm

John Wathne and Structures-North Jim Johannes

Rich Sileo and landmark Facilities Group Andre Perry and KAM Appliances

Curran Huyser and Your Friend With A Truck Marine Home Center

Budget Blinds Jonathan Miles Window Cleaning

Cape Cod Express Julia Blyth

PSA Laboratory Furniture Eric Finger and Finger Boatworks

Cape Cod Air Grilles

If I forgot someone, I do apologize!

And a thank you, of course, to our donors – that group of special people to be listed soon.


And We Have Our Research Center C.O.

Otherwise known as Certificate of Occupancy – from the Town!

Our Research Center passed its inspection with the Town and now we are in the midst of cleaning, installing blinds, washing windows, and moving things around. We await moving the collections in and new collections cabinets to arrive. This summer, we will be up and running and there will be plenty of opportunities to take a peek. You will find that the “renovation” was very light – taking into account the historic nature of the building and its historic fabric. Once William Mitchell’s schoolhouse, it lived on Howard Street and after he sold it, it actually followed him to Vestal Street where it continued as a school, including for the Town as the West Introductory School.

When the MMA was given the building in 1919, it was picked up and moved less than 100 feet to sit where it does now. It opened as the MMA Science Library in the early 1920s. The stucco Wing was added in 1933.

We have gone to great lengths to preserve the exterior and interior of the building while making minor alterations for an accessible bathroom and accessible pathway, a laboratory-like space which has counters and a sink built into the existing library shelving, and a new state-of-the-art HVAC system for the collections’ protection. I think anyone familiar with the interior of the building will note that it has not changed much. But, with new coats of paint, some updated furniture for students and researchers, we are on our way to a better space in which the MMA can conduct its research, store its historic biological collections, and welcome students and researchers alike to learn about the unique environment of Nantucket – from the land to the water to the skies above.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

April, 1878. I called on Prof. Henry at the Smithsonian Institute. He must be in his 80th year. He has been ill and seems feeble but is still the majestic old man, unbent in figure and undimmed in eye. I always remember when I see him, the speech of Miss Dix, “He is the true-est man that ever lived.

In Washington, D.C. for a meeting of the officers of the Women’s Congress – the Association for the Advancement of Women meetings ̶ Maria stopped by to visit a friend and something of a mentor, Professor Joseph Henry. A physicist and professor, Henry was the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. His feebleness was telling – Henry would die about a month after Maria’s visit with him in May 1878. Henry was friendly with William Mitchell as well – they all ran in the same circles so to speak – and Henry came to Maria’s support/aid several times including when she wanted to take a leave of absence from the U. S. Nautical Almanac during her European trip. Those calculations for the Almanac were tedious and trying to complete them and travel was not going to be easy. When she asked for a leave from the work, the Almanac refused and Henry wrote a letter to support her year or so leave. I think the Almanac was just afraid to lose Maria completely. She would only resign several years into her professorship at Vassar – once she was sure that she was settled into the job completely.


Looking Good at 200


Every year is a special and important year at the MMA. But this year, even more so. Maria Mitchell turns 200!

We will be hosting an extensive array of activities from special lectures to a bigger birthday, a symposium, pop-up science events around Town, and a whole host of other activities. I will post about them periodically but to get you excited, take a listen to the radio segment of the MMA’s Executive Director, David Gagnon, and myself – recorded March 21, 2018. And check out the website and our calendar for all of the events. Next up, the MMA’s astronomer, Regina Jorgenson, Ph.D., will present a four-part lecture series on the planets at the Nantucket Atheneum – and its free!


And Now We Await Our Inspection . . .

Well, it looks as if we are pretty much finished with the Research Center! We have some minor items, including cleaning (by the MMA staff), window washing, and the installation of the blinds, but we await our final inspection by the Town now. So let us hope! Then, will come moving in all the collections – including the former circulating collection of books which went off for something of a cleaning and then await me to vacuum each and every book as I re-shelve them. Takes me back a few years to when I cleaned the Special Collection books – with the help of some Mitchell House interns in summer – but this will be just vacuuming ̶ I don’t have to brush and sponge! Yeah!

So stay tuned. I know the Natural Science Department has some special collections open houses that will be free and no reservations necessary to members and non-members alike so take the opportunity to see the newly spruced up space this summer!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

March {1857} I found from Nantucket to Chicago more attention than I desired. I had a short seat in one of the cars, through the night. I did not think it large enough for two, and so coiled myself up and went to sleep. There were men standing all around. Once one of them came along and said something about there being room for him on my seat. Another man said, “she’s asleep, don’t disturb her.” I was too selfish to offer the other half of a short seat, and too tired to reason about the man’s being, possibly, more tired than I. . . .One peculiarity in travelling from East to West is, that you lose the old men . . .

My first image is Maria, bonnet on, long skirts and high-top shoes and petticoats and slips beneath with her legs tucked up under her on this train car seat. That’s what I do on the steamship! In my jeans, coat, comfortable sweater, sneakers . . .But the image doesn’t work for a woman of the nineteenth century. Though she is later offered a window seat so that she can prop herself up to sleep which makes me think she really was reclining to some degree. Perhaps the men in the car didn’t think it appropriate! It was not for the time – but I could see Maria not caring because she wanted to be comfortable and, “Darn It!,” she was tired!

I close with her comment about old men – think about all those books you have read about the “wild west” and the likely not accurate movies, not many old men, for several reasons.


Women’s History Month Is Here!

Well, the month is upon us! And just in time, Cricket Media has included Maria Mitchell in their March edition of Cobblestone along with several other important women in nineteenth century history.

Another reason to celebrate Maria even more is that 2018 marks her 200th birthday and the MMA will be hosting numerous activities around this milestone event this year.

To start: Please join us at the Atheneum on March 21st when we co-host with the Atheneum a Women in Science Panel at 7PM. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mitchell’s birth (August 1, 1818), the Maria Mitchell Association and the Nantucket Atheneum host a discussion with island women scientists who will talk about what drew them to a career in science, what that journey was like, and how we can inspire girls to want to be scientists.

The panel includes: Karen Beattie (Nantucket Conservation Foundation), Sara T. Bois (Linda Loring Nature Foundation), Regina Jorgenson (Maria Mitchell Association), Emily Molden (Land Council) and Tara Riley (Town of Nantucket). The panel will be moderated by Emily Goldstein Murphy (Maria Mitchell Association).

I will also be leading a women’s history walk on March 24th at 10AM. See our MMA online calendar for more details. Reservations are necessary!



A Trip to Beantown

A recent work-related trip up to Boston afforded me the opportunity for some professional development related field trips – and also a very gracious husband who took on the task of taking care of our three-year old son and eight-year old Siberian Husky – also known as two high energy bundles of lovable chaos – particularly when they decide to romp with one another!

My choice of hotel – historic of course! – was the lovely 1912 Fairmont Copley. I try for historic inns and hotels – of course! – and since I have already stayed at another grand dame that is even older – the Parker House Hotel (1855) – I decided to try another and one that was close to where I planned to do some museum-going and architecture-gawking. (The Copley is across the street from the Boston Public Library!)

Built on the site of the former Museum of Fine Arts that was demolished in about 1911, the Copley sits on wooden pilings drilled down into what is the swamp that Copley Square and much of the area is built on. In fact, all of the “old” buildings are built on pilings including one of my first stops on my journey – the Boston Public Library.

I took a very nice tour of the BPL having never done that before. I like to wander on my own and made sure to do that before the free tour that occurs once a day. There were about twenty people on the tour from all over, including Boston. The focus was of course on the McKim portion of the building and I have included images. I have written about the BPL before – Maria Mitchell’s nephew was a senior architect with McKim, Mead, and White and designed the library with that team. In fact, Maria’s name is inscribed on the exterior of the building. This was McKim’s way of cementing his legacy and frankly, building a palace for the people – a palace of learning for all as it continues to be today. He was involved in every level of every aspect from the statuary to the bronze doors to the tiniest detail. Further graces to the building include amazing murals by the likes of very well-known artists of the day including one of my favorites John Singer Sargent. And while I adore the late nineteenth century structure, I am almost just as captivated by the 1970s addition by Philip Johnson. And at the juncture between the nineteenth and twentieth century buildings, I spent some time in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center taking in an exhibit.

Being a walker, I decided to walk from Copley Square to the Museum of Fine Arts – about 1.5 miles one way. Not bad, but as I came to recognize my island feet are just not use to pavement walking and by my return journey after walking all over the museum and the three plus miles of round trip walking, my feet were TIRED!

But it was well worth it. While it was extremely crowed due to it being a free day and the Lunar New Year celebration, I did find some space for myself to take in my musts-sees – – my favorite artist of the eighteenth century being John Singleton Copley. My favorites – “A Boy with a Flying Squirrel” (his half-brother), “Paul Revere,” “Mary and Elizabeth Royall,” and even the piece of wood with “Corkscrew on a Nail” – that is supposedly what he painted when as a guest at a house with no corkscrew to be found. And of course, I followed that up with my nineteenth century favorite Winslow Homer and then Mary Cassatt. I even had a moment to fully take in a work of marble by Harriet Hosmer – an American sculptor who worked in Italy and whom Maria met on her trip there in 1858. Maria described her as “mad-cap” and “a little brisk pretty girl.” From her descriptions and others that I have read, I would take her as being sprite-like but also a woman who was more free to be herself and to do as she wished well outside the realm of the “woman’s sphere” – particularly among her fellow artists of Europe.

Copley’s “Boy with a Flying Squirrel.”

A trip well spent – but oh my aching feet! The Doc Marten’s Store on Newbury was a must stop for new shoes on my march back to the hotel!


“Hope Springs Eternal”

This is dramatic for what I relate this quote from Alexander Pope to, but I had really almost given up.

A few years ago, late spring came and Peleg’s grape arbor – which I have written about before – began to bud up. There are two trunks – two different grape plants. One – the larger of the two by a great deal – started to sprout its leaf buds. The other, I hoped was just a bit behind after a rough winter. Unfortunately, I was wrong. It never budded – it was killed by the winter of bitter cold and warmth and then bitter cold again. I started to worry I could lose – the MMA could lose – the entire arbor. So, desperate to try to ensure its survival, I went to many lengths to try and root the grape which is no easy task based on what I have read. I finally – after multiple attempts – resorted to taking long cuttings and placing them in some soil and then putting them in the window of the Observatory’s Seminar Room where I spend the winter – my “winter office.”

I have been watering them since October and frankly, they continued to look like dead sticks. At the beginning of February, I almost threw them out but then decided that I would wait just in case. Well, on February 7, 2018, I glanced over and – overnight it seems – leaf buds had appeared! I was elated! And now they continue to grow and one has begun to unfurl itself. I hope I can keep them going and can then plant them in place of the old one that died a few winters ago. Let’s hope. This is just another tie to the Mitchell past.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

1880, Feb. 16. I sent a note to Mr. Swan this morning to ask about the power that I may have to vote for school officers and the ask where I must register, what tax I must pay, etc. I also suggested to Dr. Webster to write to another of our Trustees. They may rule us out as citizens but we have lived for years within the precincts of some town. . . It is possible that we must hold real estate in the town, but I know that my Father voted although he did not even pay a poll tax.

Here, Maria is likely referring to a Vassar College trustee and also an attorney, who served as the attorney and legal adviser to Matthew Vassar. But what is of most interest is that Maria is trying to figure out how she might vote – not for Vassar College officers, but Poughkeepsie school board members. (Dr. Webster was then Vassar’s resident physician, having replaced Dr. Alida Avery.) This journal entry followed upon the heels of Maria’s younger sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, being voted in as the first woman to serve on the Cambridge Massachusetts School Board along with another woman, Sarah P. Jacobs, in December 1879. It was the first time that women were allowed to vote for a political office in Cambridge and the two were the first women to hold any office in Cambridge. In fact, women were allowed to vote for school board members throughout Massachusetts – think about how that came about. Maria seized on this accomplishment of her sister’s and the fact that women could vote for school boards in Massachusetts, hoping to make some changes in New York – or at least Poughkeepsie. She also likely felt that this would help to support not just education but girls and women in education and further, women’s higher education i.e. college.