Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

April 20 {1858}  Mrs. Somerville told me that an English gentleman named Joule had advanced the idea of late that heat is motion and that she has enlarged on this in her book and she gave me various anecdotes illustrative of this doctrine.  She remarked also that the science of magnetism had made strides in the last few years . . .

As I have noted here before, Mary Somerville was one of Maria Mitchell’s heroes.  The chance to meet this Scotch woman scientist and science writer was a dream come true for Maria.  Somerville welcomed her with open arms and they met several times during Maria’s visit in Italy where Somerville lived.  The joule is named for English physicist James Prescott Joule who funnily enough lived the same years as Maria – 1818-1889.  He was also – a brewer! – like Matthew Vassar.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

Observatory
Oct 22, 1869
Chs. B. Trego, Esq.
I have your circular of Oct 15, informing me of my election as a member of the American Phil. Society of Philadelphia. You will please accept my thanks for the honor conferred upon me. Will you have the goodness too inform me if a complete set of the publications of the society can be obtained?
Maria Mitchell

 
Maria Mitchell was one of the first women to be inducted into the American Philosophical Society. At the time she was inducted, Mary Somerville (one of Maria’s heroes) and Elizabeth C. Agassiz were inducted. Before that time, only one other woman had become a member – Ekaterina Dashkov in 1789. While she had asked her father, William, to write her letter accepting her membership as the first woman at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Maria wrote her own letter as seen above. By this time, she was at Vassar College and as an older woman and Vassar’s professor of Astronomy, more independent, comfortable, and accepted as a woman acting alone. Times had also changed – it was twenty years since the AAAS induction and while a very few things had changed for women – at least writing a letter for herself and not asking a man in her family to do so!

JNLF

Maria Mitchell in Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

March 15, 1858. Today an eclipse of the sun was to come off, and with Mr. B and the Westons I went to the Observatory of the Capitol to look at the phenomenon . . . . The old gent speaks no English, but the bad French of both of us made a language. He had placed three telescopes of ordinary mounting in a terrace which overlooks the Forum, and as it was very cloudy, we looked at the magnificent views of the Alban and Sabine Mts. instead of looking at the Eclipse . . . . A dozen young men suddenly formed into a line and Prof. Calandrelli presented his pupils, who gracefully lifted their caps. They were fine looking fellows of about 16 and they all smiled as they greeted me and were evidently pleased at being noticed . . . .

Maria Mitchell was in Rome in 1858, a part of her European trip that started with her serving as a young woman’s chaperone. When the young woman, Prudence Swift, was called home due to her father’s bankruptcy (thus no more funds for the trip), Maria Mitchell remained and continued to travel. She was the first woman to gain entry to the Vatican Observatory – not even one of her heroines, Mary Somerville, ever gained entry.

JNLF