In 2007, I had the great fortune to travel to Vassar College to do some research in the Vassar College Archives and Special Collections and to stay and investigate the campus for a week. Through a generous and anonymous fund supported by a Vassar alumna who wants to encourage renewed ties between the MMA and Vassar, I was able to go through Maria’s papers that remain at the College. When she left in 1888 due to failing health, she intended to just take a break from Vassar and then return. Unfortunately, her health did not allow for this and thus her sister and a niece traveled to Vassar to pack up her things, choosing to leave some of her papers with the college – in particular those that were more administrative in nature. The MMA has the bulk of her papers however, including her personal papers and letters.
When I was not in the archives, I was crawling about campus, including Maria’s observatory, and was taken on a tour inside before the building was renovated to become the new home for the Education Department. The Vassar Observatory is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Observatory was very much in its original condition when I walked in. I could feel Maria and her students about me. Marks from more than a century of use remained on the floor where equipment had been moved, the beautiful staircase from Maria’s rooms into the dome where Maria and her students had once posed for a photographer welcomed me, and then I came across this small closet on the first floor below her rooms and the dome. Look closely. Despite the twenty-first century debris, do you see the dates written on each shelf? THAT is Maria’s handwriting noting the dates where she likely shelved the glass plates she took of the night sky both on her own and with her students. Now how incredible it that – that in 2007 – and even today I am told – those are still there?!