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Maria Mitchell
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Astronomer
    (August 1, 1818-June 28, 1889)
    Born in Nantucket, Massachusetts
    First American woman to work professionally as an astronomer
    Discovered Comet C/1847 T1 ('Miss Mitchell's Comet') in 1847
    Hired as Professor of Astronomy at Vassar (1865) and Director of the Vassar College Observatory
    The report of her sighting of the comet did not reach Europe until after King Frederick VI of Denmark had already awarded a medal for its discovery to Francesco de Vico, who had independently found the comet two days after Mitchell. (Mitchell received a second medal for the discovery.)
    The notion of a female astronomer was so novel that she became a tourist attraction in Nantucket.
    During a trip to Europe, she was denied admission to the Vatican Observatory. After lobbying Papal authorities, she was allowed in, but only during the daytime, which rather limited her ability to use its telescope.
    When she was in her teens, the local sailors trusted her to perform the navigational calculations for their whaling voyages.
    She was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1848) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1850).
    After a couple of years teaching at Vassar, she discovered that despite her accomplishments and experience, she was earning less than younger male professors. She successfully demanded a salary increase.
    As a protest against slavery, she stopped wearing clothes made of cotton.
    Her telescope is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

Credit: C. Fishel


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