Tag Archives: Maria Mitchell

The joy of science

I’m reading a new biography of Maria Mitchell, Maria Mitchell and the Sexing of Science: An Astronomer Among the Romantics. Mitchell, the first American woman who was a professional astronomer, and probably the most famous American woman scientist of the 19th C., said this about the joys of watching the skies:

“The aurora is always a pleasant companion, a meteor seems to come like a messenger from departed spirits and even the blossoming of the trees in the moonlight becomes a sight looked for with pleasure. And from astronomy there is the enjoyment as a night upon the housetops with the stars as in the midst of other grand scenery. There is the same subdued quiet and grateful sensuousness — a calm to the troubled spirit and a hope to the desponding.”

I suspect I’ll have more about this biography after I finish it.

(Mitchell plays a minor role in my mother’s family folklore. My mother’s family comes from Nantucket, where Mitchell spent the first four decades of her life; and Mitchell left the Quakers to join the Nantucket Unitarian church where my mother’s family attended worship. I remember hearing about Mitchell as a child — mostly I remember learning to pronounce her first name “muh-RYE-ah,” not “mah-REE-ah.”)