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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/562

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SKETCH OF MARIA MITCHELL.

THE list of the great inscribed on the Boston Public Library bears the name of one American woman—Maria Mitchell. While other names of women equally worthy to be recorded there may easily occur to all of us, the validity of Miss Mitchell's title to be thus remembered will not be doubted.

Maria Mitchell was born on the island of Nantucket, August 1, 1818, and died in Lynn, Mass., June 28, 1889. Her parents belonged to the Society of Friends, of the colony who settled in Nantucket when that island belonged to New York; the father a school teacher and afterward cashier of a bank, indulgent to his children, fond of animals and kind to them, and cultivating a well-developed taste for experimental astronomy. He was also fond of beauty and of enjoyable things, and, as the rules of the society would not allow him to wear bright colors, he indulged his taste for them by buying red-covered copies of books, painting the framework of his telescope bright red, spreading a gay carpet on the floor, papering his sitting room with pink rose designs, and displaying the polarization of light. The mother was a woman of strong character, clear-headed and demonstrative. Books were abundant, in the house and at the library. Mr. Mitchell from his early youth was an enthusiastic student of astronomy. The evenings when pleasant, Mrs. Phœbe M. Kendall says in her biography, "were spent in observing the heavens, and to the children, accustomed to seeing such observations going on, the important study in the world seemed to be astronomy. One by one, as they became old enough, they were drafted into the service of counting seconds by the chronometer during the observations. Some of them took an interest in the thing itself, and others considered it rather stupid work; but they all took in so much of this atmosphere that, if any one had asked a little child of this family, ‘Who was the greatest man that ever lived?’ the answer would have come promptly, ‘Herschel.’" Maria very early learned to use the sextant. On the occasion of the annular eclipse of the sun of 1831—central at Nantucket—when she was twelve years old, she held the chronometer, counting the seconds, while her father observed the eclipse. This event was called up in her diary, March 16, 1885, when she wrote, mentioning it, that now, "fifty-four years later, I counted seconds for a class of students at Vassar; it was the same eclipse, but the sun was only about half covered. Both days were perfectly clear and cold." At sixteen she became an assistant teacher in the school of Mr. Cyrus Peirce, where she had been a pupil; afterward opened a private school; and then became, for twenty years, librarian of the Nan-