Guide to the Maria Mitchell Papers, 1859–1883

This collection has been digitized, and its contents are available online. Browse the contents list below.

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Research Library at the Nantucket Historical Association. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the internet.

Summary

Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) was born in Nantucket, Mass., to William Mitchell (1791–1869) and Lydia Coleman Mitchell (1792–1861). William was a Quaker and a teacher who devoted his career primarily to astronomy, at one time serving as chairman of the Harvard Observatory Committee, an Overseer of Harvard College, a member of the Massachusetts Senate, and a member of Governor Briggs’ Council. At the age of twelve, Maria began her astronomical observations. In 1847, she discovered a telescopic comet from the vantage point of her father’s observatory that brought her international recognition. She was awarded a gold medal by King Frederick VI of Denmark and elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as the American Philosophical Society. She was also one of the first females to work for the United States government when hired for a project by the U.S. Coastal Survey. She resigned her post as the Nantucket Atheneum’s first librarian in 1856 to travel throughout the U.S. and Europe, and in 1865 she became Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College. The Maria Mitchell papers consist chiefly of social letters. Many of these center on Maria Mitchell’s Nantucket background; she reflects on the singularity of the community, catches up on town happenings, and receives a “Welcome Home” poem written to her by E. Starbuck. Collection also includes an extract of the journal of William Mitchell.

Collection Details

Collection Number:
MS5
Title:
Maria Mitchell Papers
Date(s):
1859–1883
Creator:
Mitchell, Maria, 1818–1889.
Repository:
Nantucket Historical Association
Language:
Material is in English.

Information for Users

Restrictions to Access: No restrictions. Open for research.

Restrictions to Use: No usage restrictions.

Copyright Notice: Copyright is retained by the authors of items in this collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation: [identification of item], in the Maria Mitchell Papers, Nantucket Historical Association.

Acquisitions Information:

Unknown.

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Nantucket Historical Association assumes no responsibility.

Related Collections

  • MS120 Papers of the Maria Mitchell Association, Nantucket Historical Association
  • MS259 Henry Mitchell Papers, Nantucket Historical Association
  • MS296 Notes Concerning Maria Mitchell, Nantucket Historical Association
  • 2008.1 Maria Mitchell Papers, Maria Mitchell Association
  • 2008.3 Mitchell Family Papers, Maria Mitchell Association
  • Maria Mitchell Papers, Vassar College

Subject Headings

  • Personal Name
    • Mitchell, Maria, 1818–1899.
    • Mitchell, William, 1791–1869.
  • Topical Term
    • Migration, Internal—United States—19th century.
    • Women—Massachusetts—History—19th century.
    • Women astronomers—History—19th century.
    • Women educators—History—19th century.

Biographical Information

Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) was born in Nantucket, Mass., to William Mitchell (1791–1869) and Lydia Coleman Mitchell (1792–1861). William was a Quaker and a teacher who devoted his career primarily to astronomy, at one time serving as chairman of the Harvard Observatory Committee, an Overseer of Harvard College, a member of the Massachusetts Senate, and a member of Governor Briggs’ Council. At the age of twelve, Maria began her astronomical observations. In 1847, she discovered a telescopic comet from the vantage point of her father’s observatory that brought her international recognition. She was awarded a gold medal by King Frederick VI of Denmark and elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as the American Philosophical Society. She was also one of the first females to work for the United States government when hired for a project by the U.S. Coastal Survey. She resigned her post as the Nantucket Atheneum’s first librarian in 1856 to travel throughout the U.S. and Europe, and in 1865 she became Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College.

Scope and Content

The Maria Mitchell papers consist chiefly of social letters. Many of these center on Maria Mitchell’s Nantucket background; she reflects on the singularity of the community, catches up on town happenings, and receives a “Welcome Home” poem written to her by E. Starbuck. Collection also includes an extract of the journal of William Mitchell.

Contents

  • Folder 1 Maria Mitchell letters out, 1859, undated
    • Letter to Mrs. William H. Crosby, undated
      Letter written in Rome regarding Maria Mitchell’s travels. She still thinks Nantucket people are bright and moral and few communities compare, none outside New England.
    • Letter to Mrs. William H. Crosby, undated
      Letter regarding preparation of a speech.
    • Letter to Mrs. William H. Crosby, undated
    • Letter to Alexander Starbuck, 24 August 1859
      Letter describes Starbuck as one of Mitchell’s “Atheneum boys”; commends his faithful industry and good penmanship. Mitchell also writes of her visit to England and the Astronomer Royal.
    • Letter to Professor Rogers, 12 November
      Letter written in London asking a Professor Rogers to escort her to Paris
  • Folder 2 Maria Mitchell description, 1883
    • Letter from Irene to Mrs. Washington F. Davis, 1 January 1883
      Describes seeing Maria Mitchell in her rooms at Vassar College.
  • Folder 3 “Welcome Home” poem, undated
    • “Welcome Home” poem, undated
      By E. Starbuck welcoming Maria Mitchell back to Nantucket.
  • Folder 4 Letter out attributed to Maria Mitchell, undated
    • Letter to Phebe W. Bunker, 14 June
      Letter attributed to Maria Mitchell mentions Miss Barney’s papers, social news, and reading.
  • Folder 5 Extract from journal of William Mitchell, will, 1835, 1876
    • Extract from journal of William Mitchell, 16 December 1835
      Reports severe cold and deaths by freezing of Phebe Coleman and Priscilla Cartwright
      Typescript of Maria Mitchell’s will, December 10, 1876
  • Folder 6 Maria Mitchell letters in, 1876–1878
    • Letter from Margaret Brodie Herschel, 27 April 1876
      Letter signed M.B. Herschel from Collingwood, England, describing her home and family.
    • Letter from Margaret Brodie Herschel, 9 July 1878
      Letter signed M.B. Herschel from Collingwood, England, describing her home and family.

Processing Information

Processed by NHA staff. Finding aid by Abbie Minard and Amelia Holmes, June 2018. Finding aid updated by Kelli Yakabu, July 2021.

Collection digitized by Sara David, March 2019.

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