Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

Steamer Castalia. Sept. 12 {1873}. We are on the 13th day of our passage and only today am I able to write. The passage has not been bad but the pitchy motion which the head winds gave is very sickening and I was scarcely able to move for 7 days. Certainly for 3 days I was violently sick if I moved. And the worst sickness was the giddiness of the 8th and 9th days when if I moved, I was faint, or, my sight failed and things dimmed for a few minutes.
I did not walk across the deck for 10 days, although I crawled up nearly every day . . .

And this was how, Maria Mitchell’s second trip to Europe in 1873 ended. Seasick. She had spent three months in England and Russia, gaining access to the Observatory at Pulkova. She had travelled with her nephew, William Mitchell Kendall, and at times her sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall and her husband, Joshua. You may have read the hysterically funny piece about Maria becoming locked in the train bathroom that I recently posted – this was part of that same trip. No matter where you are raised, even on an island, it doesn’t mean you won’t get seasick! And while this passage doesn’t detail astronomy or Vassar or women’s rights or women and education, I think it shows that Maria – or MM as she referred to herself and signed letters to family and close friends – was just as human as everyone else – even if she was America’s first woman astronomer!

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

July 29 {1873}. En route to St. Petersburg and we are told that we keep this car right through. We have sleeping car thus. The lady’s toilette is round and into that the Conductor locked me this morning . . . . I found I could open the window and get air and there was a very comfortable arm chair, but I was distressed about Willie who could not know where I was.

After an hour I put my head out of the window just as Willie did the same. He was delighted as I was. When the next stopping place came the Conductor was at hand at once and let me out. Willie had been much alarmed . . . .

On her second trip to Europe in 1873, Maria traveled with her sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall, Phebe’s husband, Joshua, and their son, William Mitchell Kendall – the family always referred to him as Willie. At one point, Maria and Willie struck out on their own, visiting the Observatory at Pulkova. I came across this amusing entry that I had not read before and laughed as I imagined Maria stuck in the bathroom – haven’t we all been there before – but also her sixteen or seventeen year old nephew panicked that his aunt was missing and in a foreign country and on a train to boot!

JNLF