What’s New in Mitchell House? Peleg Jr.’s China!

We have some new artifacts over here at the Mitchell House! We recently acquired Peleg Mitchell Junior’s (Maria Mitchell’s uncle) blue and white Ridgway china set as a generous gift from his descendants. All in all, there are thirty-seven pieces in this set and they have gone on quite the journey!

Based on their color and pattern, we believe the china dates to around the 1830s. According to the family, the china originally belonged to Mary Ann Whippey, who was Peleg Mitchell Jr’s first wife. The china stayed with the Mitchell family, even after Mary’s death in 1836. In fact, the china came to the Mitchell House in 1837 when Maria’s father sold the house to his youngest brother, Peleg Jr, so Maria’s family could move to the apartment above the Pacific Bank. Peleg Jr had recently married again to another Mary (just to keep things confusing), known by the full name of Mary Swain Russell. After Peleg Jr died, Mary Russell still spent the summers here on Nantucket, but the rest of the year she spent time in Philadelphia visiting her daughter, Lydia. At some point, the china made its way down to Philly and later to Gladwyne, PA, with Lydia’s daughter (Mary and Peleg Jr’s granddaughter). The china continued moving with the family’s descendants, some of it going to Delaware and the rest of it taking a trip to Vermont. Now, it’s all back together at its original home – the Mitchell House!

The china we have is the Asiatic Palaces pattern, which was produced by Ridgway Potteries. In the full image, you can see a scene that takes place along a river, with the focus on two people standing by an ornate gate and a large pagoda. In the background, there is a bridge, a boat, and some other pagoda-style buildings along the riverbank.

But if you look closely at our set, you might notice that the small ladle and one of the plates have a different blue and white pattern, as if trying to blend in with the rest. The plate still says Asiatic Palaces on the bottom, but instead of focusing on the people by the pagoda, this plate’s scene is a close-up of the bridge and the boat. The small ladle, on the other hand, has nothing to do with Asiatic Palaces and is actually a completely different pattern! Though still blue and white, this ladle has an image of a windmill. According to the family, this ladle has been used with the rest of this set for as long as they can remember!

Now, in addition to these two pieces with totally different designs, if you look reaaaally closely at the rest of the set, you might notice that the pagodas are different shapes and the people are wearing different clothing or standing in different places from piece to piece. This seems a bit unusual for transfer-ware, which is not hand-painted and is usually mass-produced.

You might also be wondering why there is a ruler in the pictures of the up-close china. That’s because these are the photos we took to put into our records as we process and accession each item. These pictures provide a great opportunity for you to catch a glimpse into what we’re working on behind-the-scenes at Mitchell House!

Stop by to check out this china set on display in the Mitchell House pantry!

Kelly Bernatzky, Mitchell House Intern 2018, Vassar College 2019


Join Us Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium October 2018

We are women studying together.”

Maria Mitchell

Please join us on October 5-6, 2018 at the Babson Executive Conference Center in Wellesley, MA for this important conference concerning women and girls in STEM. A different meeting, this will be a hands-on experience in which we are trying to develop real-world solutions. Dava Sobel, Jill Tarter, Meg Urry, Kate Kirby, Shirley Malcom and more!

Visit www.mmwiss.org for more information and to register. Early-bird registration until August 1, 2018. Scholarships for students and teachers.


Women in STEM Symposium Flyer

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. http://www.american-eclipse.com

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. http://www.davasobel.com/

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. http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/faculty_staff/profiles/lanhamj

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


Remembering Barbara V.

As a young and quiet child, I did not easily ask others for help. But, I do remember asking her for help. A French Canadian woman who assisted at the MMA Science Library. She would take her (cigarette) breaks on the front bench. Sometimes, her father would be visiting and I could hear the fast-past French zipping around on that front porch. She had a sort of gravelly voice and an infectious laugh and always the hair picks in her loose bun. I finally got up the nerve to ask her about a few words in my French textbook that I was having issues with – I had just started the seventh grade and we must have been up for Columbus Day weekend. I got my answer but I also got a stream of French that left me a bit clueless – I realized I was going to be swamped in French – and to be honest, it was never my forte even though I kept it up through my first semester of college. Do you know how many times I read The Stranger in French? It was ridiculous.

By the time of the French question, I had known her for a year or so maybe. What was the most interesting about her was the birds. She rehabilitated birds and baby birds – orchestrating a crazy waking and feeding schedule with her partner. They seemed to be up around the clock with shifts for feeding the baby birds. She seemed to always have a box with her of several baby birds or injured adult birds. I know that over time it took a toll on her to the point that she had to give it up. It was stressful, exhausting, and she of course felt defeated if she lost a bird. These were birds mainly brought to her by others; a few she found herself. She developed all sorts of appropriate mixtures of food made of mashed bugs and meal worms, berries, insects – whatever that species of bird ate. And oh the poop! If you have ever taken in an injured bird, even for a short while, you know how much they can poop!

She was a lover of nature and a lover of all animals – she had so many dogs that I cannot remember all of their names. But they were sweet and all shapes and sizes. She even adopted one of Madaket Millie’s dogs upon Millie’s death – taking in Paddle Paws. She was a fixture in Madaket as well – out in her cottage near the harbor with her partner’s paintings affixed to the exterior. She would tell me stories of the last day of school in high school and how her parents let she and her brother drive overnight from Montreal on their own to make it to the steamship to come over for the summer. She had been a summer kid – who made Nantucket her lifelong home, for a time, living in the house she had summered in all those years as a child and teenager.

The other morning, almost as if to say hello or send a message, a male cardinal alighted briefly on the front porch of the MMA’s science library bench (now Research Center) where she used to sit, and smoke, and feed her birds in between visitors. I’d like to think it was her – or my Other Nana – telling me that she is somewhere safe now, with her partner, and Paddle Paws and her dogs and all her animals, and, her parents. And don’t worry Barbara V., everyone will make sure that the turtles have a safe and loving home. Lots of love, ma cherie! I will miss you.

The step, however small, which is in advance of the world, shows the greatness of the person, whether that step be taken with brain, with heart, or with hands.

– Maria Mitchell


Open. Open. Completed!

There has been a lot going on!

Eileen McGrath and Nat Philbrick cut the ribbon.

OPEN: On May 25th, we had our opening reception to thank donors and contractors who worked on converting our Science Library into our new Research Center – a multi-year project that I have documented on this blog.

A big thank you to our donors and all the women and men who completed the work on the building. I have listed them several times before but our thanks are so very deep. We could have not have done it without all of them!

We will be having special workshops and open collection events throughout the summer – and some of our lectures will be held in the Research Center as well. So check out our calendar online. We hope to see you at one – or multiples!

Interior of Research Center.

OPEN: Mitchell House is open for the season! Come take a look and have a tour. If you have not been in in some time, or never (tsk tsk), now is the time with Maria’s 200th Birthday this year! Don’t just walk through the home she lived in – walk through the home she was born in 200 years ago!

COMPLETED: After another multi-year process, I am happy to report that the wrought iron fence at the Mitchell Family lot at Prospect Hill Cemetery has been completed and installed! This was a community Preservation Act funded project. The stone bases for the fence were realigned by Neil Patterson and his crew several years ago and DeAngelis Ironwork of Boston restored the fence using a historic photograph from our collection. It is not an exact reproduction as such a thing was completely cost prohibitive unfortunately but it speaks to the fence that was once there – just a bit simpler – using exiting patterns/molds.


Oh and wait! Did I mention we have new signs?



Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

May 11, 1853. I could not help thinking of Esther a few evenings since when I was observing. A meteor flashed upon me suddenly, very bright, very short-lived; it seemed to me that it was sent for me especially, for it greeted me almost the first instant I looked up, and was gone in a second – it was as fleeting and as beautiful as the smile upon Esther’s face the last time I saw her . . . my faith has been weaker than ever since she died, and my fears have been greater.

Have you ever looked up at the stars and felt as if you were the only person in the world? Or, when you saw a meteor streak across the sky, and maybe gasped to yourself as it was so sudden, so fleeting, and felt like you were the only one who probably saw it? And, that it was as if some higher power somewhere was acknowledging you or giving you this beautiful though fleeting gift?

I understand what Maria means in reference to her cousin, Esther, who had recently died. A beautiful vivid flash – instantly there but instantly gone. You barely have time to grab on and then that person is gone. You think you have all the time but you don’t. Made harder by losing people who are young – who barely get to show who they are, what they are made of, what they can do, what changes they can make, what things they can discover, who they can help.


Cabinets Anyone?

They are here! Thanks to Cape Cod Express which stored them for several months at a very large discount – thank you again CC Express! – our cabinets were finally able to arrive on Monday the 23rd of April!


These are all state-of-the-art collections cabinets for our herbarium, insects, birds, and other biological collections. We will be able to use our bird cabinets that were purchased with grants and fundraisers about ten years ago but the other cabinets are too old (ca. 1930) and not up to “snuff” by today’s standards to make the move to the Research Center. The cabinets are beautiful – made by Delta Designs.

And we need to thank or moving crew – Curran Huyser and the men of Your Friend With a Truck!


(My) Tulip Thief

That was a long winter. Typically, I don’t complain but it was not nice weather-wise. And the cold and the wind – couldn’t Mother Nature have given us some more snow to at least enjoy – and break out that new sled we got my son – a “big boy sled.”

In any case, I have been watching the tulips I planted last fall in front of the Mitchell House. They started to break ground, then it got cold, then they came up a little more, then the bunnies got to them. (We now have THREE bunnies at Mitchell House. Imagine how many babies we will have! ARGH!)

I’ve been watching and watching these tulips as their leaves twisted, were eaten, snapped at by cold, flurries, and frost. And then, they started to grow more, and to show buds, and color! Is spring REALLY here?

And then the other night, a thief came! I had not even gotten down to Mitchell House yet when our Executive Director stopped me and said he had a, “What would Jascin do moment.” Not sure if I should be honored. But, needless to say from out of his window after dinner he spied a young man on his bicycle, bending over the Mitchell House fence, snipping away at the tulips! He raced downstairs in his pajamas and politely confronted the thief. The thief was embarrassed, taken aback, and was told to, “Drop the tulips!” – well, not exactly. He was told to leave them and then politely told that the MMA pays for those tulips and the work that goes into gardening. The thief left sheepishly.

The next day, I was in the Mitchell House with the front door open doing my annual mildew cleaning of the front sitting room ceiling when I heard someone at the door trying to open the locked screen. I got off my scaffold and found a young man at the door who I did not completely recognize at first. Then he said my name and I knew who it was. With him, he had a bag with three pots of tulips. “You’re my thief!?” I exclaimed. He replied, “They were just so pretty that I couldn’t resist. I just wanted them.” This thief is a former student of mine – way back from when in addition to the MMA, I also was a teacher. He is one of those students who could be trying at times, always pushing the edge, always finding something to get himself into trouble, but one that you will forever have a soft spot for. I hugged him. Yelled at him. Told him he only had to ask first, and then told him the names of his stolen items – Viricic and Beauty of Spring tulips from the Colorblends Company. And then gave him heck because I told him about the bunnies. I cannot be mad at him – he has a soft spot for gardens and flowers so I will take my choice of tulips – and my Mother’s – as a compliment.

(I’m thinking if further time is needed, he can come help me weed this summer.)


Seal of Approval!

When he is thirteen years old, hanging out with Mom while she builds microscope chairs (or some other facilities or museum related activity) might not be too fun or exciting anymore. But for a four-year-old? Testing the new microscope station chairs for the Research Center proved exciting. Trying to help Mommy build them? Maybe not so easy – but sure fun to pop the bubble wrap. He, of course, needed a lift up – but he says, “Good to go for the new Research Center!”