Maria Mitchell was born August 1, 1818 on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. She became the first acknowledged woman astronomer in the United States. Not many girls born in the early 1800s were encouraged by their parents to aspire to high goals. Not many were lucky enough to have a father like William Mitchell, a dedicated astronomer and teacher himself. He was delighted with the early talent his daughter demonstrated for science. Instead of considering such interests useless for a girl, Maria's father did everything he could to further her knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. Maria's outstanding contributions to science, education and women's rights more than justified her father's enthusiastic efforts.
On a clear autumn night in 1847 Maria stood on the roof of her parent's house, focusing her telescope on a faraway star. Suddenly she realized that the faint, blurry light wasn't a star at all, but a comet. The discovery of a comet wasn't a rare event in the nineteenth century, but women astronomers were rare indeed.
In 1848, Maria became the first women member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and later became a fellow of the society. She served as professor of astronomy at Vassar College from 1865 to 1888. In 1875 Mitchell was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women. Mitchell died on June 28, 1889.
Throughout her career Maria encouraged young women in the same way her father had encouraged her, to be anything they wanted to be. After her death, the Maria Mitchell Astronomical Society was created as tribute to her memory. Mitchell was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1905.
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