Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Feb. 18, 1854.  If I should make out a calendar by my feelings of fatigue, I should say there were six Saturdays in the week and one Sunday.

I sort of laugh when I read this – different century, same feeling.  Though in Maria Mitchell’s day, the only day of rest was Sunday – to some degree and depending on where you lived, what you did for a living, and your religion.  For Quakers, it was a day of rest.  Sometimes, people had half a day of rest on Sunday, if that.  Also at this time, Maria was caring for her mother, Lydia Coleman Mitchell, an illness that would take a toll on the entire family – physically and emotionally but more so on Maria as her main caregiver.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

March 31. {1857} We are at length in New Orleans, and up three flights of stairs at the St. Charles, in a dark room, at the pretty price of three dollars a day . . . . The peculiarities of the city dawn upon me very slowly.  I first noticed the showy dress of the children, white waists and fancy skirts – then the turbaned heads of the black women in the streets, and next the bouquet-selling boys with their French phrases.

This was Maria Mitchell’s southern trip in the spring of 1857, before she and Prudence Swift (her charge) headed to Europe.  What you need to keep in mind is that Maria Mitchell was coming from a heavily Quaker influenced island home so to see the “showy dress” of the children and the turbaned women, as well as the dazzling bouquets of flowers, added to the cacophony of color that Maria Mitchell was not used to seeing in such an extreme.  It must have been an assault to her eyes though a beautifully happy one.  When you think of New Orleans, besides the obvious of the Vieux Carré and jazz music, what always comes to me is the thick humid air, the lush of the plant life, and the fantastic explosion of color, as well as the warm, beautiful faces of New Orleanians and the drawl that only says New Orleans native.  (Can you tell I lived there for about three years?  Riverbend.)

JNLF 

Mitchell House is Open!

Amy Brill at NBFWe have had a busy opening first two weeks here at Mitchell House. After a week of training, the Mitchell House’s new summer intern, Sarah Scott − a 2012 graduate of Vassar College − is leading tours of the House, working on planning our summer Junior Historian classes for children aged 7-10, and learning the finer points of “keeping” a historic house museum. Soon, she will be assisting me with cleaning and moving the Special Collection books and working on some small research projects related to the Mitchells. We had a large number of visitors during our first week and on Saturday, I led a women’s walking tour concerning Maria Mitchell and other famous Nantucket women.

Additionally, as co-sponsors of author Amy Brill with the Nantucket Book Festival (NBF), MMA was a part of some of the activities for the NBF including the opening reception and talk, as well as the opening dinner and of course the breakfast at the Dreamland Theater where Amy read from and spoke about her debut novel The Movement of Stars inspired by the life of Maria Mitchell. Amy also spent some time at MMA speaking more about her book and meeting some of our members as we opened up the Mitchell House and the Vestal Street Observatory for invited guests.

Amy continues on her travels promoting her book – an exhausting thing to do especially when she leaves her husband and two young daughters behind for much of it – although they were able to come along to Nantucket for the weekend! But leaving them at home likely has given Amy a better understanding of what Quaker women went through when they left their young families behind to spread the word of the Quaker faith throughout America and even sometimes abroad for many months or even years at a time.

If you have not had a chance to read Amy’s novel, please do. Amy is sure to have more novels for us to read in the future. Thank you, Amy, for your time and for being so inspired by Maria Mitchell and this tiny little island that had such a far reaching influence many generations ago.

For further inspiration, please come by Mitchell House for a tour or sign a child or yourself up for one of our history/historic preservation classes! Become inspired by Maria Mitchell and the Mitchell family as Amy did. You never know what that inspiration may become!

JNLF