Maria Mitchell (1818-1889), astronomer
Vassar College Observatory
Photograph by Tom Furtwangler. Courtesy of Vassar College.
Maria Mitchell with class in front of Observatory
Photograph courtesy of the Special Collections, Vassar College Libraries, Poughkeepsie, NY.
The Vassar College Observatory represents the varied accomplishments of Maria Mitchell, the astronomer, professor and women's education crusader who taught at the observatory from 1865 to 1888. Mitchell's public career began on October 1, 1847, when she became the first American to record the sighting of a new comet, the same comet which now bears her name. In 1848, she became the first woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She traveled to Europe and became the first woman to see the Vatican observatory. In 1868 Matthew Vassar built this observatory exclusively for Mitchell and, in recognition of her stature within the scientific community, he equipped the observatory with the most advanced equipment of the day, including what was then the country's third largest telescope.
During her time at Vassar, Mitchell became a crusader for the higher education of women, both inside and outside the world of academia. Mitchell helped begin the American Association for the Advancement of Women, a group of moderate feminists who sought expanded professional opportunities for women, and she was instrumental in the founding of Radcliffe College. Throughout her life, Mitchell campaigned actively for women's suffrage and fought for women's equality in the patriarchal worlds of academics and science.
The Vassar College Observatory is located on the Vassar
College campus in Poughkeepsie, NY. The Observatory is no longer
used and is not open to the public. However, Vassar College's
grounds are open to the public, as is the new
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