“Our want of opportunity was our opportunity – our privations were our privileges, our needs were our stimulants
– we are what we are partly because we had little and wanted much, and it is hard to tell which was the
more powerful factor.” Maria Mitchell
Growing up in a Quaker household meant a simple life. Although the Mitchells certainly stressed these values, William Mitchell was known for making attempts to liven up daily life. Quakers were not allowed to dress in or display bright colors, but Mr. Mitchell found opportunities to get around the rules. According to Phebe, one of
Maria was fascinated by her father’s investigations. Nantucketers, it seemed, were connected to the study of the skies by nature. The work of astronomers was essential to the safe navigation of the many whaling and merchant ships that sailed from the island during the 1800s.
Nantucket was then the whaling capital of the world
Nantucket was at the high point of its fame as the whaling capital of the world. Nearly a hundred ships had their home port at Nantucket, and many of the island’s men served on their crews for up to four or five years at a time on a hunt for whales. The most important part of the sperm whale was the liquid, called spermaceti, that was found in the whale’s head. This oil could be used to make clean-burning, odorless candles, or could be burned in lamps.
Latitude and Longitude are measurements of location on the Earth. Because the Earth is a sphere, latitude lines encircle the planet horizontally, and longitude lines run vertically. The Equator is at 0 degrees latitude, and the Prime Meridian is at 0 degrees longitude. Sailors could calculate latitude and longitude to figure out where exactly on the Earth they were when they were so far out to sea that they could no longer see land. For instance, Nantucket, MA is at 41 degrees North latitude, 70 degrees West longitude.
From the time she was twelve years old, Maria served as an important helper for her father. As the family observed a solar eclipse over the island in 1831,