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The Science Museum of the University of Navarra celebrates the International Day of Women and Girls in Science by remembering the career of astronomer María Mitchell.

Maria Mitchell was the first American astronomer and fought for the social and political equality of women.

10 | 02 | 2021

The Science Museum of the University of Navarra celebrates in a new video the figure of the astronomer Mary Mitchell, on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11).

Maria Mitchell was born in 1818 on the island of Nantucket (Massachusetts). Her childhood was marked by an equal Education and by the influence of her father, an astronomer and teacher, who passed on his passion for science. At the age of twelve, Maria helped her father with astronomical observations and at the age of fourteen, whalers came to her to calibrate the chronometers of the ships. 

One of the most important milestones in her life was the finding of a comet at the age of 29. On October 1, 1847, Maria was observing the sky and discovered a white spot. Thanks to this finding she was recognized by the King of Denmark and the comet was baptized with her name: "Miss Mitchell's Comet". From this moment on, Maria Mitchell was recognized in the world of astronomy and became the first woman to be a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science association .

In the mid-1960s Vassar College hired Maria as a professor. The work at Vassar College allowed her to continue her research in astronomy and she specialized in the surfaces of Jupiter and Saturn, as well as in the study of sunspots.

Her bequest: teacher, researcher, feminist and source inspiration for future scientists

Maria Mitchell was source of inspiration for many women to start a degree program of Science and some of her students were brilliant as, for example, Christine Ladd Franklin, first doctor of John Hopkins University.

The American astronomer was a model for the American suffragettes, as she was the first woman to receive a salary for her intellectual abilities in the academic field. She became a founding member of the American Women's Association association and her own is the following quotation: "No woman should say: But I am only a woman. Only a woman? What more can you ask for?".

Maria Mitchell died in 1889 at the age of 70. After her death, her friends and disciples founded in her hometown the association Maria Mitchell in order to preserve her house, Observatory, books and instruments that she used during her lifetime. Since 1997 the association offers an annual scholarship Women in Science to recognize the advances of women in fields such as the natural sciences, physics, engineering, computer science and technology.

The project of videos "Women in Science" is supported by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) / Ministry of Science and Innovation and is part of the Science Museum's STEM strategy to make the teaching of subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics more attractive, especially among girls and young women.