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Maria Mitchell

astronomer
Born: 1818

Maria Mitchell, the nation's first professional woman astronomer, grew up on the Massachusetts whaling island of Nantucket, where ships steered by movement of the stars. She learned to chart the placement of the sun, moon, and stars as a child, and charted her first eclipse when she was just 12. She further tested her math skills at age 17 by accurately surveying the island of Nantucket with her father. In 1847 Mitchell was working as a librarian and studying the night skies when she discovered a comet, which became known as “Mitchell's Comet” and earned her a gold medal from the king of Denmark. The following year Mitchell became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. From 1865 to 1888 she taught science to hundreds of young women as professor of astronomy at Vassar College in New York.

Died: 1889

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