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.

JNLF