Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

1881. Sunday, June 12. The eclipse at one o’clock this morning was beautiful.  It had rained for a week and cleared off last evening . . . . I got out a little before 1 a.m. and went to bed at 2 {a.m.}.  Roses are plenty.

This was not a solar eclipse as Maria would observe in 1831 (Nantucket at age 12 ½), Burlington, Iowa (1869), or Denver, Colorado (1878), but a lunar eclipse (note the time of day) viewed from the observatory at Vassar.  School was still in session – yes, colleges did not get out in May – and her well-received and highly-anticipated Dome Party for the year would follow just six days later.  This seems to have been a solitary observation – though two of her nieces via her youngest sister, Kate, may have at least been present in the Observatory as they had come a few days before to stay.

What I love even more is her note about the roses being in bloom.  A naturalist as well, Maria’s journals are always at least peppered – if not written to great depth – with notations about things in nature.  And June, is the time for roses!


And please do not forget to join us this Wednesday, June 27 from 7-8 PM for a lecture and book signing at the Nantucket Atheneum with David Baron author of American Eclipse – a book in which Maria Mitchell is one of the featured astronomers.  Baron drew on Mitchell’s papers housed here on island at the MMA to research and write his book. 

Special Birthday Speakers for Maria’s 200th Birthday Year!


I am very excited to highlight our three special birthday speakers for this summer whom I believe touch on the life of Maria Mitchell in special ways.  And, I am very pleased that they have all agreed to come from some far distances to help celebrate Maria’s 200th!

Our first speaker will be on Wednesday, June 27 at the Nantucket Atheneum.  David Baron’s most recent work is American Eclipse which came out last summer.  He featured five astronomers – as well as other notables – and their trials and triumphs of observing and documenting the eclipse of August 1878 in Colorado.  Maria is one of the featured astronomers as she travelled out west with several of her students – including her sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall – to observe and record the eclipse.  Baron makes the event come alive in this book and notes the frustrations, challenges, and successes of observing in the late nineteenth century.  It really is a must-read and we hope you will join us for this FREE lecture at 7PM on the 27th.  A book signing will follow.  You can learn more about David Baron on his website.

On July 25, starting at 7PM at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum, we will welcome noted author, Dava Sobel.  Sobel is the author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, as well as numerous other books and articles.  Her newest book, The Glass Universe, looks at the women of the Harvard College Observatory and their work as star catalogers – an almost all female group.  The MMA has a unique tie to the Harvard College Observatory – Maria played a small role in this program, Harvard Observatory’s helped the MMA to develop its Astronomy Department back in the early 1900s. and we had several ties to the women who were Harvard’s star catalogers, including our first astronomy director, Margaret Harwood.  It’s a wonderful book and we hope you will join us.  Tickets can be purchased via the NHA at 508.228.1894 for $25.00.  A book signing and a special reception with the author will follow this lecture.

And finally on August 22, at the Nantucket Atheneum we will be hosting J. Drew Lanham.  Professor Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature as well as numerous articles, poetry, and research papers in peer reviewed journals.  He is the Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher and Certified Wildlife Biologist Forestry and Environmental Conservation Department at Clemson University.  He will be speaking about his work in songbird ecology and his perspectives on the role African Americans in natural resource conservation.  His book is a must-read!  His picture will be FREE and run from 7-8PM.  A book signing will follow.

Please join us and celebrate Maria Mitchell’s 200th!


It Really Did Work!

Sometimes when you hear or read that, “You should try this to do X,” you often think, “Yeah that won’t work.”

I am happy to report that during the August 2017 eclipse, looking at the eclipse via a colander as the light of the sun passed through the individual holes of a colander really did work – much to the amazement of the people with me at the Mitchell House.

It’s hard to believe that it has been two months already since the partial eclipse that we witnessed on Nantucket.  Made even more unbelievable by the record setting warmth we seem to have been having.  I was actually sweating when I planted tulip bulbs at the Mitchell House very recently.

But the image you see here is indeed the eclipse as seen through the holes of a lovely old colander we have at the Mitchell House.  Not a historic collection piece but one in the Curator’s Cottage that frankly, is probably from the 1940s.  I use it for teas and other small events hosted by Mitchell House that require food – outside of course!  The little half-moons you see are the shadow of the eclipse – it’s sort of being used as a pinhole camera.


American Eclipse

Yes, it is coming.  August 21st to be exact.  Mark your calendar as the MMA will be hosting activities during the days before it and on the day as well.  While we will not see a total solar eclipse, we will get a partial view – about 75% of the Sun will be “bitten” or covered in shadow.

There is of course much press surrounding this event.  And, in June, David Baron’s book, American Eclipse, was released.  This was something that was in the works for quite a few years – he first contacted me probably about five years ago concerning Maria Mitchell’s papers.  It was great to see the final result after numerous contacts with David, questions, discussions, etc.  Maria Mitchell viewed three solar eclipses in her life – the first being right here from 1 Vestal Street in 1831 when she was 12 ½ years old.  She counted seconds for her father, William, which then allowed them to determine the exact longitude of the Mitchell House – 70.105 longitude.  (The latitude is 41.281.)

David has already been interviewed on NPR (see our MMA Facebook page) and is making his book tour rounds – I am hoping he will come out to us next summer to celebrate Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday – Dava Sobel has said she would join us.  Smithsonian Magazine also did an interview with David in the column “Small Talk” in its most recent issue.  And thankfully, David corrected them on their maybe not entirely correct ideas about Maria and her influence on women in the sciences.

I am in the midst of reading the book.  Maria Mitchell is one of about four astronomers who are featured so she plays a large role in his discussion of the eclipse of 1878.  Maria travelled to Colorado to view the eclipse with her students – making a rather serous sensation – you know, all those ladies traveling out to the wild West by themselves with no men to protect them and traveling in open wagons and trains.  Such horrors!  (Well, at least that would have been the opinion in that period.)

So, to celebrate Maria – and of course the eclipse – check out American Eclipse.