Senator Steve Saland (R,I,C Poughkeepsie) has announced that a woman who was a professor of astronomy and director of the college observatory in 1865 at the newly opened Vassar College has been named by the New York State Senate as a Historical Woman of Distinction.
Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts to a family that felt girls should receive an education equal to boys, an unusual attitude for the time. At age sixteen she was an aide to a schoolmaster, actually started her own school at age seventeen and ultimately became a librarian. Her love of astronomy began when her father bought a telescope, which he installed on the roof of their home. Maria helped her father record his observations for the U.S. Coast Guard.
In her late twenties, she noticed something unusual in the sky. She was given a gold medal by the King of Denmark for being the first to discover a new comet seen only through a telescope, which was named Miss Mitchell’s Comet in her honor. Her accomplishments in the field of astronomy gained her national recognition and she was named to many prestigious scientific organizations, often as the first woman member.
In her late forties she became a professor of astronomy and director of the college observatory in 1865 at the newly opened Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, where she used a twelve-inch telescope, the third largest telescope in the country to conduct research on the surface features of Jupiter and Saturn. She is a member of the Hall of Fame of Great Americans at New York University and a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls. Her birthplace in Nantucket is open to the public.
"Maria Mitchell was a woman ahead of her time," said Senator Saland. "In the early 1800s, women were generally expected to be content to marry and be good mothers, housekeepers and hostesses. They were not supposed to intrude into traditionally male domains such as business or science. We are indeed lucky that Maria Mitchell did embrace the world of science and make her mark on the field of astronomy. I am most pleased the New York State Senate is honoring her as a Historical Woman of Distinction during Women’s History Month.," Saland concluded.
Maria Mitchell is one of three historical women being inducted as a Woman of Distinction this year by the New York State Senate. The Historical Women of Distinction Display will be available for public view from March 17th through March 28th in the Well area of the Legislative Office Building in Albany. For more information on Miss Mitchell, go to the website of the Maria Mitchell Association at www.mmo.org.