This is an observatory and to be exact it is Maria Mitchell’s Observatory at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. It is now a National Historic Landmark. What you see in the niche is the bust of Maria Mitchell that was sculpted by Emma Brigham as a gift from the Vassar College Class of 1877 to the College. The MMA now has a copy (only the second one ever made from the original – the first is at the Hall of Fame which Maria Mitchell was inducted into) of the bust thanks to a generous gift from Mr. James Storrow.
When Vassar College was built, there were only two buildings on campus when it opened in 1865 – Main Building and the Observatory. Everything happened in Main – students lived there, went to classes, dined there, professors were housed – and then you had the quieter Observatory a bit away from Main where Maria Mitchell lived with her father, conducted classes, observed, and welcomed the luminaries (authors, royalty, scientists, women’s rights advocates, and others) of the day into her home.
And congrats to Monica Flegg who guessed what this was last week!