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Maria Mitchell Essay

1507 words - 6 pages

This paper will discuss the life of Maria Mitchell and how she became the first woman astronomer in the United States. It will tell of where she grew up. How she climbed the ranks to achieve her goals and how she came into discovering her true passion of astronomy. By describing the events that made this courageous woman, we can see clearly how she set an example for her gender in the Nineteenth century.

Women have always been at the forefronts of science, even though they have not always taken the credit for it. One of the defining marks of humanity is our ability to affect and predict our environment. Science - the creation of structure for our world - technology - the use of structure in our world - and mathematics - the common language of structure - all have been part of our human progress, through every step of our path to the present. Women and men together have researched and solved each emerging need. But in beginning of this paper, we will begin at the beginning and reveal the location of her birthplace to tell of her origins to seek the woman who broke many gender stereotypes.

Maria Mitchell, an American astronomer, “was born August 1, 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, USA.” (McPherson p.12) Her father, a member of the Quaker religion felt strongly that girls should receive education equal to that of boys. When Maria was sixteen she was already a teaching assistant to a schoolmaster. “It was this strict schoolmaster that gave Maria the advantage over the others,” (Weatherford p.144) in that she could quickly find problems and solve them. He was Cyrus Peirce, the founder of the first normal school in America, nowadays called a teacher's college. When she was seventeen she decided to open a school of her own. She rented a room and put an advertisement in the newspaper. The school closed after a year when Maria was offered a job as a librarian of Nantucket's Atheneum Library. This job was perfect for her, because she was earning a good salary and had time to study and read books. Her father also was “hired as cashier of the Pacific Bank.” (p.54) With his new job came the living quarters attached to the bank. Mr. Mitchell built an observatory on the roof and installed a brand-new four-inch telescope. He used it to do star observations for the United States Coast Guard and Maria helped her father with the measurements.

One night in the Autumn of 1847, Maria looked at the sky through the telescope and saw a star five degrees above the North Star where there had been no star before. She had “memorized the sky and was sure of her observation.” (Gromley p.55) This was the great discovery that her constant vigilance brought into the open, as she saw a comet of unknown origin. It occurred to her that this might be a comet. Maria recorded the presumed comet's coordinates. The next night the star moved again. This time she was sure it was a comet. Her father wrote to Professor William Bond at the Harvard University observatory about...

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