Maria Mitchell was born in 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was one of many children in a Quaker household. Her father was an astronomer, and as a child she would help her father with some of his mathematical calculations. She learned from her father and from books in the Nantucket Atheneum where she was a librarian.

Although she never actually studied as a student at college, in 1853 Mitchell was awarded an honorary degree from Indiana Hanover College. She was the first woman to be awarded a college degree. And later, she was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by Columbia University.

Maria Mitchell is probably best known for being the first woman astronomer in the U.S. On October 1, 1847, while she was viewing the skies from a telescope on the rooftop walk of her parents' house, she discovered a new comet. This comet is now called Comet Mitchell 1847VI. Because she was the first person to discover a "telescopic comet," that is, a comet that is visible only through a telescope, she was awarded a gold medal from the King of Denmark.

Mitchell made several contributions to the field of astronomy and an enormous contribution for the rights of women. In 1848 she was appointed the first woman in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1865 despite many objections to a female being a college professor, she became the first woman professor and managed the observatory at Vassar College. Adding to her fame, she discovered several nebulae, and she was the first American astronomer to create a set of photographs of the sun's surface. For many years she worked for the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac and the U.S. Coast Survey calculating their mathematical equations. In 1875 the American Association for the Advancement of Women elected Mitchell for their president.

Mitchell died on June 28, 1889. After her death, the Maria Mitchell Astronomical Society was named in tribute to her memory.


Designed by: Leslie Takei


Muir, Charles S. (1956). Women: The makers of history. New York: Vantage Press.

Wilkie, K. (1966). Maria Mitchell: Stargazer. Champaign, Ill.:Garrod Publishing.

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