Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria MitchellMaria Mitchell began her travels through Europe as a young woman’s chaperone. Later, due to the bankruptcy of her father, the young woman was called home but Maria continued her trip through Europe, at one point traveling with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family whom she had met with earlier in her trip. This entry in Maria Mitchell’s journal comes from her first meeting with Nathaniel Hawthorne. And it is dated just four days after her August 1st birthday, a day she shares with Hawthorne’s good friend, Herman Melville (1819 – 1891), whom she met on Nantucket in 1852. Happy 194th, Maria!

August 5, 1857

He was more chatty than I had expected, not any more diffident and not any less awkward. He remained about five minutes, during which time he took his hat from the table and put it back once a minute, brushing it each time. The engravings in the books are much like him. He is not handsome, but he looks as the author of his works should look; a little strange and odd, as if not quite of the earth. He has large bluish gray eyes; his hair stands out on each side, so much, that one’s thoughts naturally turn to combs and hair brushes and toilette ceremonies as one looks at him.

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.