Living, Breathing

I think I have mentioned this before.  The ticking of the tall case clock in the Mitchell House, its ringing on the hour, always makes me feel like the Mitchell House is alive.  It is when I have to stop the clock for the winter that the House goes dormant.  It’s a sound that I become quite use to when it is running – the ticking and ringing.  It always makes me chuckle to myself when the Mitchell House intern first starts work in late May.  It takes them a few weeks to discern the difference between the clock and the front door bell but then, they get it.  (Don’t worry – I don’t let them “run” for the door – I tell them, “No!  It’s the clock.  You’ll get used to the difference.)

The tall case was a wedding gift from William Mitchell’s parents to William and Lydia on their wedding day.  Made in Boston by John Deverell in 1789, it’s a year older than the House.  William and Lydia gave the clock to Phebe Mitchell Kendall upon her marriage in 1854.  Phebe left t to her only child, William Mitchell Kendall who then left it to the Mitchell House in his estate in 1941.  I am not sure how William’s parents came to the clock – perhaps it was their clock as William and Lydia married in 1812 so by then the tall case (no, not called a grandfather clock!) was twenty-three years old.

On its face it rotates the phases of the Moon and shows the seconds and the date.  It’s a seven-day clock, but I wind it twice per week (always, holding my breath as it is 231 years old!)  It has wonderful inlays around the bonnet top and the case where the door to the pendulum and weights are located.  And its face is enameled.  It’s a simple – very appropriate for a Quaker family – tall case clock with just a touch of “extras” – a bit of color and a bit of decoration.

I put it to bed a few weeks ago – I wait pretty far into the fall as I hate to stop it.  But when I do, I tell it to have a good winter and that I will see it when I wake it in the spring.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

1873, July 21 Cambridge.  We took an exceedingly hot day for a visit to      Cambridge. . . . Cambridge is beautiful – but it has no trees except those in parks . . . One thing is certain, Girton College has sat itself down before the University of Cambridge in siege and the little woman Miss Davies has obtained a quiet power that is very effective . . .

This second European trip, Maria made in the summer of 19873 with her sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall, her husband Joshua, and their son William Mitchell Kendall. Girton was the first residential college for women in the United Kingdom and had opened just about four years before Maria visited.  Davies was its founder.  But coming from the second oldest women’s college in the United States, and with her lifelong push for women in education and also women’s equality, this was a must on her return trip to Europe.  What I like best about her comment is that of Girton being plopped right in front of Cambridge as if thumbing – or perhaps really thumbing – its nose at a centuries old institution where only men could be educated.  Cambridge did not formally allow women to receive degrees until 1947.  By her comments, it seems to have pleased MM as well.

For more about Girton College, visit:

And – make sure you stop by the MMA tomorrow from 1-4PM where we will be celebrating Maria Mitchell’s 199th Birthday (and yes, we are gearing up for number 200!) with activities, period inspired music, a falconry demonstration, activities, and refreshments!  All of our properties will be open for FREE.  Everyone is welcome!


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!


Answer To Do You Know Where This Is?


The image is a portion of the face of the Mitchell family’s tall case clock. Built by John Deverell in Boston in 1789, the clock was a wedding gift to William and Lydia Coleman Mitchell from William Mitchell’s father, Peleg Sr. William and Lydia were married on December 12, 1812 or as Quakers would write it the 12th day of the 12th month 1812. It is a heavy brass works clock that shows the phases of the moons (it rotates with the clock) and the date – useful for a family of astronomers! William and Lydia gave the clock to Phebe Mitchell Kendall, a younger sister of Maria, when she married Joshua Kendall. Phebe then left the clock to her son, William Mitchell Kendall. Willie, as he was called by the family, left it to the Mitchell House in his estate in the 1940s. It still works – I wind it twice per week!

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!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria in her chair

Dec 16, 1870

Alfred Stone,

I have a lecture on the Seven Stars of the Great Bear, which I shall be pleased to give before your “Union.” I shall probably be in Boston from Dec 22 to Jan 3d and can come down to Providence in that time, or (what I should prefer) stop at Providence on my way to Po’keepsie, and Lecture Wednesday evening Jan 4.  I have never spoken to an audience of more than 400, and am therefore glad that your hall is a small one.

My charge to a Lyceum is $50. I charge $20 to a school, and should be glad to make some engagements in schools in and around Providence.

Maria Mitchell

My address after Dec. 21 is 81 Inman St., Cambridgeport, Mass.

Alfred Stone, a prominent architect of Providence, Rhode Island invited Maria to speak. Stone was well-known and a founding partner of his architecture firm. He designed the Providence Public Library, buildings at Brown University and the University of Rhode Island, as well as numerous private homes, in addition to quite a few other private and public buildings. Her Cambridgeport address for the school holidays was that of one of her younger sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, who lived in Cambridgeport with her husband Joshua and son, William Mitchell Kendall – a young man who would become an architect with McKim, Mead, and White (see an earlier post for more on WMK). Phebe Mitchell Kendall, like Maria, was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Women, serving as the head of the Dress Reform Committee at one point; was the first woman to serve on Cambridge’s School Board; and was an artist of quite some talent, once opening an art school on Nantucket.


Answer to What Is This?

This is a small area of inlay that is found towards the bottom portion of the Mitchell family’s tall case clock. Made in Boston in 1789, the clock was built by John Deverell and was a wedding gift to William and Lydia Coleman Mitchell from William’s parents in December 1812 (or the twelfth month 1812 as they were Quakers). It was then given by them to one of Maria Mitchell’s younger sisters, Phebe Mitchell Kendall who then left it to her son, William Mitchell Kendall. It came to the Mitchell House in the late 1940s from his estate. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I wrote a bit about Kendall – he was a senior architect with McKim, Mead, and White.


Found: A Book of Pressed Flowers

As noted in a previous entry, I have been hard at work cleaning and moving the Special Collection books. Prior, I worked on cleaning and moving Maria Mitchell’s own library and the books of her family members that we have. As I was recently working on the Botany Special Collection (SC) books, I came across this very small and unusually bound book. It is bound with a beautiful wood cover and a lovely detailed ribbon is inserted as an inlay and then varnished over to protect not just the ribbon but the wood as well. The title reads Jerusalem and what I believe is likely the word Jerusalem in Hebrew is above the English.

Inside are wonderful combinations of flowers pressed in intricate patterns and wreaths from sites across Israel – each page labeled as to where the flowers supposedly came from. This is obviously a souvenir that was purchased. What makes it of even more interest, and also out of place with regular botany SC books, is the fact that in it is written, “Brought from Israel by William Mitchell Kendall.” He was the nephew of Maria Mitchell, the son of her younger sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall and her husband Joshua Kendall. William Mitchell Kendall was a senior architect with McKim, Mead, and White and travelled fairly extensively – including taking a trip in his late teens with his parents and his aunt Maria to Europe, including Russia in 1873. I think he was likely influenced by his aunt’s love of travel and exploration. Maria Mitchell once said, “The habit of traveling once adopted cannot be easily given up.”

Now, the book will be placed with the family’s collection of Special Collection books where it belongs. What an exciting find!


Flowers from the Holy Land

JerusalemFlowers from Bethlehem

Flowers from Jerusalem

Recognize this Building?

Boston Public LibraryWhile it’s not on Nantucket it was designed, in part, by a descendant of a long-standing Nantucket family. He was a senior architect for McKim, Mead, and White (MMW) which designed this building. The senior architect was named after his grandfather – William Mitchell. It is William Mitchell Kendall (1856 – 1941), the son of Phebe Mitchell and Joshua Kendall and the nephew of Maria Mitchell. A graduate of MIT, Kendall was a long-time supporter of the MMA, leaving Mitchell family pieces including the family’s tall case clock and Lydia Coleman Mitchell’s childhood sampler to the Mitchell House in his estate. He travelled through Europe with his parents and Maria in 1873 and today we have the notes from his travels during that trip – his focus? Architecture of course!

Kendall was known for continuing the firm’s traditions of Renaissance and classical forms after the death of White. Kendall designed the American Academy in Rome; the New York Post Office; the New York Municipal Building; the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C.; and the surround at Plymouth Rock to name a few. The well-known quote from Herodotus on the façade of the NY Post Office was translated by Kendall and used at his suggestion. Does that little line about the post office delivering in rain, sleet, and snow sound familiar?

William Mitchell Kendall

The building in this image is located in Boston – it’s the Boston Public Library built in 1895 with the work of senior partner William Mitchell Kendall. I like to think that he had a little something to do with making sure his aunt was on a tablet there with all of the other famous scientists, artists, and others whose names are carved into the window tablets around the BPL. Even more fitting? That Maria’s name is under that of Mary Somerville’s – one of her heroes and someone Maria met on her first trip to Europe in the 1850s.