Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words


Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

Nantucket, Mass. June 28 {1857}

My dear Miss Dix,

I expect to leave for Europe in the Arabia on July 22nd. Can you do anything for me, in the way so common, of giving good advice. I will try to be more mindful of it than recipients usually are. I expect to travel with a young girl and without gentleman and shall be most grateful for any information as to any peculiar trials which may be thrown our way . . . .

Before she began the second leg of her journey as chaperone to Prudence Swift (they had first traveled in the South of the United States that spring), Maria Mitchell made sure she had letters of introduction from American scientists to Europeans of  distinction – particularly mathematicians and astronomers she would want to meet. Always learning, Mitchell also made sure she had spoken with people to understand the situations in which she and Prudie would be traveling and living. Thus, this letter to Dorthea Dix. Mitchell had met Dix several years before, in 1853, when Mitchell was the librarian of the Atheneum. When she came to the island, Dix asked particularly to meet the famed woman astronomer. And she in fact made a donation of eleven of her books on prisons and state hospital reforms to the Atheneum’s collection.


Maria Mitchell in Her Own Words

Maria MitchellJune 18, 1876. I had imagined the Emperor of Brazil [Dom Pedro II] to be a dark swarthy tall man of 45 years; that he would not really have a crown upon his head, but that I should feel it was somewhere around … and that I should know I was in Royal presence. But he turns out to be a large old man, say 65, broad-headed and broad shouldered, with a big white beard and a very pleasant, even chatty manner … . As he entered the Dome, he turned to ask who the photographs of Father and Mother were. Once in the Dome, he seemed to feel at home. To my astonishment he asked me if Alvan Clark made the glass of the Equatorial … I remarked, “you have been in observatories before,” and he said, “Oh yes, Cambridge and Washington.” He seemed much more interested in the observatory than I could possibly expect … .

Maria had the opportunity to show many well-known people through the Vassar College Observatory which was not just her place of work, but her home as well. Throughout her life, Maria met with and maintained friendships with some of the well-know scientists and other luminaries of her time including, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sir George Airy, Sir John Herschel, Harriet Hosmer, Dorthea Dix, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Susan B. Anthony to name just a few.