anna brones

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Maria Mitchell

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“When we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests.”

Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889)

America’s first female professional astronomer, Maria Mitchell was consumed by the night sky. Growing up in a Quaker family, her parents believed in equal education for boys and girls. Her father helped to inspire her love of navigation and astronomy, and at the age of 12, she helped him calculate the position of their home thanks to watching a solar eclipse.

Just a couple of months after her 29th birthday, Mitchell discovered a comet, earning her a gold medal from King Frederick VI of Denmark as well as becoming the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Curious about the world, she traveled in the U.S. and Europe and eventually became a professor at Vassar Collage. Education was a tool not to be squandered. To her students, she declared, “I cannot expect to make astronomers, but I do expect that you will invigorate your minds by the effort at healthy modes of thinking… when we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests.”

Mitchell advocated for women’s rights, involved in the suffrage movement, and brought that advocacy work into her classroom as well. According to the National Women’s History Museum, “she defied social conventions by having her female students come out at night for class work and celestial observations, and she brought noted feminists to her observatory to speak on political issues, among them Julia Ward Howe. Mitchell’s research and that of her students was frequently published in academic journals that traditionally only featured men. Three of her female protégés were later included in the first list of Academic Men of Science in 1906.”

For Mitchell, the night sky and the education about it had much to offer, beyond just the field of astronomy. As she once stated, “we especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”

So tonight, go outside, look up. Find the beauty and poetry written across the sky.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

September 6, 2019 at 09:52