Google celebrates Maria Mitchell today.
Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) was an American astronomer who, in 1847, by using a telescope, discovered a comet which as a result became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”.
Maria Mitchell was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was a first cousin four times removed of Benjamin Franklin. She had nine brothers and sisters. Her parents, William Mitchell and Lydia Coleman Mitchell, were Quakers. Maria Mitchell was born into a community unusual for its time in regard to equality for women. Her parents, like other Quakers, valued education and insisted on giving her the same quality of education that boys received. One of the tenets of the Quaker religion was intellectual equality between the sexes.
Mitchell used her observatory dome not only for the study of science, but also as a gathering place for the discussion of politics and women’s issues. On May 10, 1875, Julia Ward Howe, Maria Mitchell’s guest (and composer of the Civil War anthem “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) lectured in the observatory on “Is Polite Society Polite?” One of Mitchell’s popular traditions was her annual “dome party,” which took place for the first time on June 16, 1870. On that occasion Mitchell introduced a game in which everyone took turns in writing poems on scraps of recycled paper. One poem that day was composed by Mitchell and addressed to Mary Mineah, an undergraduate student, on her 24th birthday. Another poem ran:
Some rhymes are fitted by Eleanor Clark
Pleasing words like lark and park,
But such rhymes as Bark and Cark
These are not for Eleanor Clark,
Some rhymes are fitted to Eleanor Peirce
Pleasing words like nurse and verse
But such words as curse and worse
These are not for Eleanor Peirce.
In June 1883 these verses were arranged to imitate the words of Auld Lang Syne