Maria Mitchell for Students

Return to Europe

“The habit of travelling once adopted cannot be easily given up.”  Maria Mitchell

Maria made a second trip to Europe in 1873. Russia was another adventure for Maria, since she was traveling outside of Western Europe for the first time. She experienced strange differences in environment like the “twenty hour St. Petersburg summer day.” Still, she also found familiar features amongst the landscape. Some of the Russian villages through which she traveled were made of wood houses, which Maria thought resembled New England villages much more than the “stone and brick villages of England” did.

Pulkovo Observatory

The Pulkovo Observatory outside of Saint Petersburg, Russia

Maria had decided to travel to St. Petersburg in particular to visit with Otto von Struve, the director of the Russian observatory in Pulkovo, just outside of St. Petersburg. She was surprised to find that von Struve’s wife was very well-educated, and wrote about the fact that the couple told her there were “thousands” of women who studied science at St. Petersburg’s universities. By 1873, Vassar had only graduated two classes, and women in science were still very rare in the United States. “One wonders,” Maria wrote in her journal, “in a country so rich as ours, that so few men and women gratify their tastes by founding scholarships and aids for the tuition of girls–it must be such a pleasant way of spending money.” Maria was impressed with the curiosity and intelligence of the Russian girls she met, who were concerned with politics, literature, and education. They, in turn, admired the “American girl,” who they saw as full of energy and ambition. To this, Maria replied, “When the American girl carries her energy into great questions of humanity, into the practical problems of life; when she takes home to her heart the interests of education, of government, and of religion, what may we not hope for our country!”

Maria also made a brief visit to London in 1873, where she visited the Glasgow College for Girls and spoke to the superintendant. Maria was disappointed in what she heard: this school taught only music, dancing, drawing, and needlework. Worst of all, the superintendant thought that Latin and mathematics for girls was “bosh.” Not surprisingly, in the same year, 1873, Maria helped to found the American Association for the Advancement of Women.

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