In thinking about equality of the sexes, astronomer Maria Mitchell wrote, “The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery, will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.”
Taught the basics of astronomy by her father as a girl on Nantucket, in 1847 Mitchell’s sharp eyes and mind determined the orbit of a new comet. She was soon famous, and received a gold medal from the king of Denmark for her accomplishment, as well as membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the first woman to achieve this honor.
She was then elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. American women raised the funds to give her a state-of-the-art telescope, and in 1865 she accepted an appointment to Vassar College to become director of their observatory and professor of astronomy.
She was a beloved teacher, and her private research was focused on the study of the sun, Jupiter and Saturn. She was chosen for membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1869 and helped found the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873.