Fall Comes to Vestal Street

Or so I thought.

Some parts of the island had a pretty decent frost the other night (I write this on the 1st of November 2018) but Town did not.  But still, it was time to cut back the Mitchell House’s garden that was devastated by bunnies this year.  We had a bumper crop of baby bunnies though I think a few of them have been, well, eaten, by birds of prey and perhaps a cat or two, sadly.

Watching the forecast, I knew it would be a least partly sunny today but I didn’t know it would be over 60F degrees!  I was sweating!  But I diligently cut back plants, weeded to some degree –  they’ll all grow back before I make my springtime garden wake-up! – and planted some tulip bulbs.  I am using a few Viricic and Beauty of Spring again.  We’ll see if the bunnies or the late cold get to them again – or any thieves.

Then, I attempted to unearth the soldier course of bricks that act as the edge of the Mitchell House garden.  The dirt has spilled and flowed over it for the last, oh many moons, and the plants have grown into that dirt.  I have tried on occasion to unearth it but this time I really dug.  Except for a few spots, I think I did it.  We shall see what happens by spring!


My Way To Work


While I do have to drive in to work every day, I typically park a short distance from the Mitchell House so that I can walk a bit to and from work.  It’s a short walk but an inviting break to think and reflect and to take in the day’s sights.

This is one such sight at the end of May and beginning of June.  Lilacs in bloom.  One of my favorites.  This large and old bush is located in the yard of Joseph Starbucks’s house.  Whale merchant with the requisite candle manufactory in his backyard (that’s what happened here early on), Starbuck has become more famous in today’s world for the three bricks he built his sons on Main Street and the infamous legend that he then told his daughters that their husbands would take care of them.  They did.  His daughters were Eunice Starbuck Hadwen and Eliza Starbuck Barney – women’s and slaves’ rights advocates.

I like to think that the lilac dates to Joseph’s time.  Typically, when they first came from Europe, lilacs were planted by front doors – or so they say – for people to enjoy their scent.  Over the years, I have noticed lilacs growing in the median space of highways and in the middle of what seems to be nowhere – but knowing of their “closeness” to houses, I always assume that a house must have once stood where this lilac continues to grow as cars sadly speed by along the highway.

In any case, I am pretty sure I have noted this before but I grew up with lilacs around my childhood home – I remember my Mom leaning out the second floor bathroom window to cut them from the top of one of the bushes.  It’s one of my favorite flowers – one of my favorite scents.  It reminds me of being little.

And so, perhaps, if they did plant it, I should say, “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Starbuck for making my walk a little sweeter.”


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Oct. 1882.  It seems strange that a comet should be an object of terror.  The beauty of this comet {referring to October 1882 comet}and that of 1861 and of 1881 and the general prosperous condition of the world affairs should do something to destroy this unfortunate prestige.  So far, in the records of history we have no knowledge of harm coming from these startling visits and in the doctrine of probabilities it is even chance that good and not evil may accrue novel changes. 

The year, 1882, and month, October, marked the thirty-fifth year anniversary of Maria Mitchell’s comet discovery on October 1, 1847.  Much of her life – and thousands of years before – were marked by the fear of a comet as a bad omen, a sign from the heavens above, an unexplained object that could bring an end to the Earth.  Even in 1882, a fear still existed among some – a fear of the unknown – something that could not be explained.  In fact, viewing comets with her father as a young girl, even eclipses, drew the attention of Nantucketers – some still afraid of the phenomena viewed by the family living at 1 Vestal Street even though they were living on a fairly enlightened island.


Vestal Street Happenings – Hinchman House

Here is a little peek of what we have going in the basement of Hinchman House which will become the new home for the Education Department.  A matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund has allowed the MMA to do much needed repairs over the last few years to several of our buildings and the basement of Hinchman House is the last piece to the puzzle.  Next up: a walled off area to serve as an office and then some paint on the walls and furniture for classroom space and rainy day space.

A special thanks to Evita Caune of Riptide Finishes for this amazing floor!

And then, we have been gardening!  A special thanks to Greg Maskell Landscaping and Island Irrigation for their work getting our garden in better shape – looking forward to introducing some new native species this spring.  This was funded by a generous gift.



This is a heartfelt and big thank you to all the panelists, speakers, sponsors, attendees, MMWISS Committee Members, and MMA staff involved in the 2018 Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium.  We had a tremendous two days of learning together at this first women in STEM conference – or as our moderator asked for people to consider: “women of STEM.”

And a big congratulations to our 2018 Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award winners: Jill Tarter, Dava Sobel, Meg Urry, and Kate Kirby.  Thank you for being such inspirations and for your work to support and promote women and girls in STEM.

We hope to see you in 2020.  Keep an eye on updates and hand-outs and information from the MMWISS on its website: mmwiss.org.

And, checkout the images on the MMA’s Facebook page.


Celebrate Maria’s Discovery of a Comet– October 1, 1847

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.

One hundred and seventy-one years later to the day!  In the year of her 200th birthday.


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.