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.

JNLF

Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell1854, Oct. 23. Yesterday I was again reminded of the remark which Mrs. Stowe makes about the variety of occupations which an American woman pursues. She says it is this, added to the cares and anxieties which keep them so much behind the daughters of England in personal beauty. And today, I was amused at reading that one of her party objected to the introduction of wood floors in American housekeeping, because she could seem to see herself down on her knees, doing the waxing. Throughout Mrs. Stowe’s book there is an openness which I like, no pretense in affectation, religious cant but it is honest habit and not affectation.

While this was written many years before, Maria Mitchell and Harriet Beecher Stowe must certainly have been at least acquaintances as they shared things in common, including their roles with the Women’s Congress, the New England Women’s Club, and likely SOROSIS, a women’s organization of which Mitchell was a founding member. They also shared friends and acquaintances in common and Mitchell made sure that Uncle Tom’s Cabin quickly appeared on the shelf of the Nantucket Atheneum when it was first published.

JNLF