Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

1875, June 20.

A meeting of the Officers of Congress was called at the house of Mrs. Hanaford, 5 Summit Ave, Jersey City. The weather was intensely cold . . . It was a question who should preside. Mrs. Hanaford thought the Chairman of the Executive Committee should and I had been told that I should, etc. The question was settled by non-arrival of Chairman of Ex. Com . . . . I made many blunders, as I have never presided before, but I continued for 4 hours. We did a few good things . . . . The most serious question in my mind was the looseness in regard to membership . . . . I spoke for a tight rule in this respect, and begged for high-toned character in our papers, and for a very very high toned morality in our membership. I was amused to find myself talked of as so “decidedly conservative . . . .”

Maria Mitchell was one of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Women and president for a term. Its congresses were held yearly in various places, typically in the Northeast. The Mrs. Hanaford she refers to is the Rev. Phebe Coffin Hanaford, a Quaker daughter of Nantucket, who would become the first woman ordained as a Universalist minister in New England.

I, too, find it amusing that Maria was talked of as conservative but I can also see that as the women’s movement grew that there were more women involved whom Maria would feel were not as “high-toned” or were not as “moral” as others. Schisms occurred within the women’s rights movement and while Maria’s first and foremost push for women was women in education, she did believe and fight for women’s rights. But did you know that she turned down a speaking engagement offered to her by Susan B. Anthony? I would say that well illustrates where Maria’s thoughts and allegiance were at.


March Is Women’s History Month

Suffrage Statue

And as I stated a few posts ago, every month and everyday should be Women’s History Month.

One way to honor the women who have made our world what it is – and the young girls and women who are following in their footsteps – is to learn something new about a woman in history from your community, your family, or who has contributed nationally or internationally – from big to small contributions – every contribution means something.

And here is another thing to think about when contemplating the role of women in our society – did you know, that of all the monuments on the National Mall in Washington, DC, none has been built exclusively to honor women in our history? The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) has been striving to change that for many years. In December, their bill to form a commission was signed into law – meaning now they can fund, staff, and aid a commission to determine the feasibility of such a museum (it’s a long and tedious process). In the past, such commissions for monuments and museums on the Mall were government funded but this time – and from now on (guess they figured the ones to be the first to fund it privately would be women because WE CAN DO IT!) – it has to all come from private monies. There is one spot left on the Mall for one more museum. In the words of the NWHM, being on the Mall would mean mainstreaming women’s history. Mitchell House is a charter member of the NWHM. This is the same group that raised the funds to bring the sculpture you see here out of the Capitol basement (Yes, the founding mothers of women’s rights were relegated to the basement) and into the Rotunda. Lucretia Coffin Mott – a native Nantucketer, Quaker, and distant cousin of Maria’s – Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are featured in this sculpture.

This is a group well-worth the support of all of us. It’s high time our government and all of us, “remembered the ladies.”


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.