Maria Mitchell for Students

Travels in Rome

”I am in Rome! I have been here four days, and already I feel that I would have that four days in Rome
than all the other days of my travels!”  MARIA MITCHELL

Maria’s next destination, Rome, seems to have been by far her favorite. She wrote the lines noted above on January 24, 1858. Maria spent every minute of her days absorbing the many centuries of Roman history, taking expeditions to sites like the Roman Forum and the Coliseum.

Of course, Maria very much wanted to visit the Vatican Observatory. Having been raised in a Quaker environment on Nantucket, she didn’t realize that she might not be allowed in because she was a woman. Maria was brave enough to ask permission of 

Father Secchi, the Vatican’s astronomer. Through him, she was able to receive[/modal] approval to visit the observatory, even though Mary Somerville, the most famous woman scientist in Europe at the time, had been denied entry.

Maria and her Father, William Mitchell

Maria Mitchell and her Father, William Mitchell, after the move to Lynn, Massachusetts. (Collection of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association)

Maria wrote that the sky was extremely clear near Rome, and that Father Secchi was working on developing methods of photographing celestial bodies. Secchi is known today for having discovered solar spicules (jets of solar materials) naming the dry channels on Mars as “canali,” or canals, and discovering three comets, one of which is named after him.

Maria returned to Nantucket in the summer of 1858, and then moved with her father to Lynn, Massachusetts after her mother’s death in 1861. She continued her work for the Coast Survey and Nautical Almanac until she accepted a post as professor of astronomy at Vassar College in 1865.

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