Holding Hands

I’m not sure this is worthy of an entire blog but I could help but notice these ferns back in May.  They have been outside the Research Center for YEARS – they are cinnamon ferns.  Not sure the photograph does them justice, but they looked like they were holding hands (look right in the middle) as if to say to one another, “Come on, lets grow together!  Spring really is here!”

Happy Autumn!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Sept. 30.  {1881} Our new Doctor says she has known Professors who are appointed by the Corporation of a Medical College to Lecture to the women, who have complied with the requirements but who have lectured with their backs turned to the women!

I will assume these are male doctors noted above though until quite late, only men lectured to men and women to women though we all need to remember that there were not a large amount of women doctors at this late date in the nineteenth century!  In fact, the first American-born medical doctor, Lydia Folger Fowler, was born on Nantucket and raised, like Maria, in a Quaker family.  She would become a doctor of what is today gynecology and lectured at the medical colleges she taught at but was only allowed to teach physiology to women – the classes were kept separate for “obvious” reasons!  (Read: nineteenth century reasons.)


Cider Doughnuts

This is a strange roundabout way for me to thank the Mitchell House intern for all her hard work at the Mitchell House and the MMA for the summer of 2018.  Kelly Bernatzky just entered her senior year at Vassar College this month.  She came to the MMA via the MMA-Vassar College Fellowship that is funded by a Vassar alum and Nantucket resident for many years to help continue to foster the connection between our two organizations – one that we have had since the founding of the MMA in 1902.  Kelly is from western Massachusetts.

During her Mitchell House orientation, as we made our way to several other island historic sites for her to get a better idea in a very short time about what Nantucket and its history entails, we chatted as we walked.  Both about work and Nantucket, but also in a get to know you sort of way.  At some pointed, I professed my undying love for Atkins Cider Donuts.  I graduated from Mt. Holyoke College and any fall meeting or dorm activity or gathering also featured cider donuts and cider.  In fact, parents could order Atkins Exam packages for us during exams – but it was always minus the donuts as they used to only make them in the fall.  Now they make them all the time.  Shipping is a bit cost prohibitive on the donuts but oh are they delicious and to me, none compare.

Well, Kelly’s mother and uncle came for a visit and on a Monday morning in June, and I was presented with two bags of cider donuts.  I was so excited that it was a bit embarrassing.  I am happy to report that I was able to thank the donut carrier in person – and on this blog want to make another thank you!  Yum!

I have already eaten all the donuts, sorry – though I did share with Kelly.  In fact, they sat by my desk all day and I had SERIOUS will power in the fact that I ate only one!  The smell drove me do-nuts!

Thank you, Kelly – not just for the doughnuts – but a fantastic summer!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Aug. 9, 1888.  My birthday letters were from E.O. Abbott, Lucy Stone, Miss Storer, Elisa Worley, Miss Helen Storke, Dr Avery, Robert Taylor, a card from Phebe’s friend, a gentleman 77 years old. 

I think I am weaned from Vassar and have entered on a little studying. 

Maria Mitchell celebrated her 7oth birthday on August 1, 1888.  Her birthday letters show her wide range of acquaintances and friends – even later in life.  Taylor was then the president of Vassar College, Dr. Alida Avery had been a fellow professor at Vassar – of Hygiene, Physiology, and the resident physician at Vassar – several of the others were her former students and Phebe of course, one of Maria Mitchell’s younger sisters.  Lucy Stone was yes, THE Lucy Stone – as in suffragist, orator, antislavery activist and first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree (1847 – the same year Maria discovered her comet).  The note from Stone reads:

. . . Your birthday and mine are here.  Let us congratulate each other and rejoice that we have had long and useful lives.

Stone was just twelve days younger than Maria Mitchell and their paths crossed quite a bit on their work and their pursuits for equality for women through organizations such as the Association for the Advancement of Women and the National Women’s Rights Conventions.

The comment about being “weaned” from Vassar refers to the fact that Maria had left some months before because of failing health.  At the encouragement of her brothers and sisters, she had taken time off but realized her health would not allow her to return.  I think her comment is not unusual for professors for whom the college or university becomes their complete way of life as it had for Maria both living and working on the campus.  It was an adjustment and a life change.  Maria would pass away less than a year later on June 28, 1889.


Special Birthday Speaker: J. Drew Lanham August 22

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On August 22,  we will be co-hosting J. Drew Lanham with the Nantucket Atheneum.  Professor Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature as well as numerous articles, poetry, and research papers in peer reviewed journals.  He is the Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology in the Forestry and Environmental Conservation Department at Clemson University.  He will be speaking about his work in songbird ecology and his perspectives on the role of African Americans in natural resource conservation.  His book is a must-read!  His lecture will be FREE and run from 7-8PM.  A book signing will follow.  http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/faculty_staff/profiles/lanhamj

Please join us and celebrate Maria Mitchell’s 200th!



Back on June 16, after sitting to sell my wares at the Nantucket Book Festival’s Local Author Tent (my book The Daring Daughters of Nantucket), I headed out to Bartlett’s to pick some strawberries – they had just opened it up that morning.  I was surprised at how little was yet ripe and also what was under ripe – but it’s been so darned cold so no real surprise.  I picked two quarts quickly however, determined to make my son some strawberry bread.

My husband and I have read to him every night since he was tiny.  Multiple books are in the offing and one of them was given to him by a dear friend and mentor of mine.  It’s a book that she taught me about and how to use it with my students when I was also teaching on island.  When Nolan was born, she found the book – long out of print – online and gave it to him with several other wonderful books.  This books I still use today – it’s part of one of the Mitchell House Children’s Classes that we teach on occasion.  The book is The Good Giants and the Bad Puckwudgies, written by Jean Fritz and illustrated by Tomie de Paola.

Part of the story describes Mashop – a Wampanoag giant – dislike for tending to tasks assigned by his wife, Quant, and his deep preference for smoking his pipe (now you know where fog comes from!) instead.  One of the few ways Quant can lure him from his pipe and get him to focus on the task at hands is by making her much loved strawberry bread – and it’s what later lures him back home and out of the temptations of the mer-woman, Squant.

The bread came out wonderfully – I made it that afternoon.  I left one quart in the garage and I have to say, the strawberries continued to ripen and from those I made refrigerator jam – super easy and delicious!  I have an image here of it in my overcrowded-company-coming-to-dinner refrigerator.  Now, I’ll be hunting for wild strawberries!  Yum!  (Update: birds and animals beat me to them!)


The Iceman Cometh

I believe I may have posted this several years ago – I had originally written it for the now gone online Nantucket magazine, Nantucket Chronicle.  But given the weather these past weeks, I think it helps to think cool.

The past few weeks have been very un-Nantucket as far as the heat and the extreme humidity.  When I was a child and even a teenager, I remember that we always wore long pants and even sweaters in the summer evenings on island.  This does not seem to be the norm any longer unfortunately.  The heat also leads me to think about staying cool and what generations before us did to preserve food.

Long before modern refrigeration, ice was used for preserving foods. Although the use of ice brought an end to salting and drying fish for local markets, with railroad development and western expansion in the 1850s, salt fish was still being shipped to inland domestic markets as well as abroad. As the fishing industry grew on Nantucket and elsewhere, however, so did the need for ice to keep the catch fresh for market.

On Nantucket, when a hard freeze produced ice of the necessary thickness, blocks were cut from Maxcey’s and Washing Ponds and the North Head of Hummock Pond and stored in nearby icehouses. This was a fairly long and tricky process that took skill to make sure the ice was the right thickness and that one did not fall through the ice.  Mainland icehouses typically used sawdust for insulation, but Nantucket ice was insulated with beach grass, seaweed, and eelgrass—sawdust not being readily available here.  The iceman would drive his cart around the streets with usually a gaggle of children trailing behind – or hitching a secretive ride on the back of the cart – hoping for a piece of ice to suck on and cool off with – back when something that simple was a pure delicacy.

When electricity was introduced on Nantucket in 1889, cutting pond ice was no longer necessary.  Captain John “Jack” Killen built the first ice-making plant, on Straight Wharf, opening it on May 5, 1902.  Several other plants, including that of the Island Service Company, followed—all operating until the Great Depression.  Nantucket’s early ice-making plants were established primarily for packing fish and shellfish, which were shipped in barrels or fish boxes layered with ice. Fishermen both on and off-island would stock up on ice before going out on long trips, and it is said that island ice was of a much higher quality than that from plants off-island—perhaps because of the purity of Nantucket’s water.

Some people still cut ice.  My parents had an elderly friend and his family owns a camp of cottages from the 19th century up in Vermont.  In the winter, the entire family shows up to harvest ice and store it in the icehouse.  The ice is then used in each of the cottages during the summer since they have no electricity or plumbing.  It is an art that is almost gone but happily there are still a few who have passed down the knowledge and skill for harvesting ice.

All images are form the collection of the Nantucket Historical Association and are island images.


Happy 200th, Maria Mitchell!

August 1, 2018 Marks Miss Mitchell’s 200th Birthday!

We have been celebrating all year, but August 1 will be her birthday party open house that we have had just about every year since our founding.

From 1-4PM all the MMA sites will be open free to the public – Mitchell House, Hinchman House Natural Science Museum, the Aquarium, and the Vestal Street Observatory.  We will have period-inspired and period music, a falconer, a children’s books author, lots of demonstrations and activities, and punch and cookies!

We will kick off the day with a children’s parade from the Atheneum – where Maria was the first librarian – to Vestal Street.  Call 228.9198 for details and to register for the parade – children must be accompanied by an adult.

Join us and help celebrate Maria Mitchell and her legacy!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Friday, July 31. {1857}They say that we shall see the coast of Ireland tomorrow, and every heart rejoices, for tho’ the passage has been very fine, we are weary of our close quarters and long for the sight of green fields, and indeed of any objects of any kind to look upon . . .

Maria was onboard the Steamer Arabia, crossing the Atlantic to reach Europe.  They started on the 22nd and on August 1 land was spotted.  They arrived in Liverpool the next day, August 2.  Imagine crossing the Atlantic on a steamer!  Whole it took almost a dozen days, imagine how much faster I was than a ship under sail as Maria’s paternal grandfather used when a whaling captain!  For some, especially whalemen, it must have felt like a speedy trip!  This was the strt of Maria’s trip to Europe – a trip that would serve as an education and one that opened doors to greater knowledge and friendships with Europe’s scientists and others.


Noted Author Dava Sobel to Speak for Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday Year

On July 25, starting at 7PM at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum, we will welcome noted author, Dava Sobel.  Sobel is the author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, as well as numerous other books and articles.  Her newest book, The Glass Universe, looks at the women of the Harvard College Observatory and their work as star catalogers – an almost all female group.  The MMA has a unique tie to the Harvard College Observatory – Maria played a small role in this program, Harvard Observatory’s helped the MMA to develop its Astronomy Department back in the early 1900s. and we had several ties to the women who were Harvard’s star catalogers, including our first astronomy director, Margaret Harwood.  It’s a wonderful book and we hope you will join us.  Tickets can be purchased via the NHA at 508.228.1894 or www.nha.org for $25.00.  A book signing and a special reception with the author will follow this lecture.  http://www.davasobel.com/