Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

Feb 4 {1871}

My dear Sally,

Anne Maria wants thee to give or lend her that cameo pin. She thinks that she would like to wear it. I have been to Phil{Adelphia} again, and to Baltimore and really enjoyed it. I found in Baltimore some very nice schools. I met the family of Ephraim Gardner at one of my lectures.

Of course I have made some money, but I have charged too little. So, now, just as I have no applications, I have raised my price. It is a very easy thing to do, as for an audience of 250 I do not need to raise my voice at all.

I feel very independent at Vassar because I find that even at the rate II have charged in lecturing, it pays better, a great deal than Vassar. Of course it is not a desirable business. I stood for the first time in Baltimore and found it just as easy.

Anne Maria (or Annie Maria as her family called her) was the only child of William Forster Mitchell and his wife Charlotte Dow Mitchell. She was, of course, named for two of her aunts. The cameo Maria refers to in this letter to her eldest sister is a cameo Maria acquired in Italy on her 1858 trip. She purchased it for her mother. This cameo has descended through the Mitchell family – Annie Maria’s line – and is still in the family. It was loaned to me for an exhibition I created on Maria and Nantucket women in 2007. Obviously, Sally did loan – or in this case did give –it to Annie Maria.

No matter where Maria went, she met someone from Nantucket – the same story continues today for Nantucketers – even halfway across the world. What I find interesting is her discussion of increasing her fees for lectures – Maria was never paid an equal amount to that of the male professors at Vassar during her tenure and it was a constant source of battles for her. But obviously, the lecture circuit helped to pay the bills.

JNLF