Google Doodle honors Maria Mitchell, first American female astronomer

Today's Google Doodle honors Maria Mitchell, a pioneer in both astronomy and women's rights.

Maria Mitchell, the first female American astronomer, is honored today in a Google Doodle.

In October 1847, Maria Mitchell perched on the roof of the Pacific National Bank in Nantucket, Mass., where her father worked as a cashier. There, through a telescope, she saw a comet that would go on to join a roster of celestial objects and earthly buildings named for her and her work.

Ms. Mitchell, the first female American astronomer, was born 195 years ago today, and her major contributions both to astronomy and to women’s rights are remembered in a Google Doodle. Today’s doodle follows one last month honoring Rosalind Franklin, the British biophysicist who contributed enormously to the discovery of DNA, and joins a number of Google Doodles celebrating pioneering women in science.

Mitchell’s Nantucket world was a seaside one, where time and direction were measured in the stars. As she grew up, she too looked to them – looked up, and found a comet, and then another one.

That first comet, named "Miss Mitchell's Comet,” won her fame – and gold prizes from King Frederick VI of Denmark. In the years following, she became the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. She then went on, in 1865, to become a professor of astronomy at Vassar College, as well as the director of the Vassar College Observatory.

Throughout those years, Mitchell was a major participant in the women’s suffragist movement – women would not get the right to vote in the United States until about 30 years after her death. In 1881, a profile in The Boston Herald called her “one of the practical advocates of women’s rights, showing in her work and life what a woman can do.” She was, that profile said, a women full of – and not afraid to show – a kind of fierce determination that had long been associated with men and deemed unattractive on a woman: when an apple tree obstructed her view at her Vassar observatory, she ordered it cut down. And then "continued and closed her work with great satisfaction."

And that determination, that commitment to hard work, was what she hoped to inspire in her young students. In 1890, an obituary in the New York Times wrote that “her advice to young people was never to repine, never to long for the impossible, but got to work and make the best of the opportunity offered.” Do that, and, maybe, its possible to reach the stars.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to