Maria Mitchell

First U.S. Female Astronomer

“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry.” -Maria Mitchell

General Facts!

Birth: August 1, 1818 (Nantucket, Massachusetts)

Death: June 28, 1889 (Lynn, Mass.)

Country of Origin: USA

Family: Mother, father, and 9 siblings. Her father opened up his own school and taught her Astronomy with his personal telescope.

Education: Maria's parents valued education and felt that not only their sons but also their daughters should be educated. Switched schools a few times but ultimately stayed home to learn.

Job: Worked as a teaching assistant for her father and others, taught at multiple colleges, opened up her own school in 1835, and took the first librarian job at the Nantucket Atheneum.

Major Accomplishments

  • The Comet "Miss Mitchell's Comet" in 1874- found with a two inch telescope.

(which was a first for the United States)

  • Became the fist woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Was given a gold metal by King Frederick VII of Denmark
  • First woman employed in a professional capacity by the federal government
  • Elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Philosophical Society
  • Envolved with the Anti-Slavery movement
  • A leader in the formation of the American Association for the Advancement of Women

In the Hall of Fame of Great Americans and the National Women's Hall of Fame


  • Maria switched religions from Quaker (family) to Christian Unitarianism.
  • She was hired to teach at a college and payed less than a younger, less qualified man. Luckily enough she fought for hire salary and was granted it.
  • The closing of her own school was hard on Maria.

These challenges mainly affected Maria personally. She struggled with some of the typical rules of society (particularly with girls education) thus hindering the growth of her school and for a period of time her influence.

Did You Know...

  1. Maria Mitchell did not keep paper records before 1846 because of a fire she had witnessed as a child. She was afraid to keep paper records because she felt all of her finding could be exposed to the public. Instead Maria burned all of her paper records.
  2. Maria refused to wear cotton made by Southern slaves during the Civil War.
  3. Was called a "computer" when she worked for the U.S. Almanac Office (because she did computations).


"Maria Mitchell." Education & Resources. Ed. National Women's History Museum. NWHM, 7 July 2013. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.

Harvard. "1848MNRAS...8..130M Page 130." 1848MNRAS...8..130M Page 130. Harvard, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Sept. 2014.

Brightside. "Famous Physicists: Maria Mitchell." — Brightside. Bright Knowledge, 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 02 Sept. 2014.

Green, Nick. "Maria Mitchell." About. About:education, 16 July 2011. Web. 02 Sept. 2014.