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0100_005E Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Maria Mitchell

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Maria left the public school at sixteen, and for a year attended a private school; then, loving mathematics, and being deeply interested in her father's studies, she became at seventeen his helper in the work of the Coast Survey. This astronomical labor brought Professors Agassiz, Bache, and other noted men to the quiet Mitchell home, and thus the girl heard the stimulating conversation of superior minds.

But the family needed more money. Though Mr. Mitchell wrote articles for Silliman's Journal, and delivered an able course of lectures before a Boston society of which Daniel Webster was president, scientific study did not put many dollars in a man's pocket. An elder sister was earning three hundred dollars yearly by teaching, and Maria felt that she too must help more largely to share the family burdens. She was offered the position of librarian at the Nantucket library, with a salary of sixty dollars the first year, and seventy-five the second. While a dollar and twenty cents a week seemed very little, there would be much time for study, for the small island did not afford a continuous stream of readers. She accepted the position, and for twenty years, till youth had been lost in middle life, Maria Mitchell worked for one hundred dollars a year, studying on, that she might do her noble work in the world.

Did not she who loved nature, long for the open air and the blue sky, and for some days of leisure which so many girls thoughtlessly waste? Yes, doubtless. However, the laws of life are as rigid as mathematics. A person cannot idle away the hours and come to prominence. No great singer, no great artist, no great scientist, comes to honor without continuous labor. Society devotees are heard of only for a day or a year, while those who develop minds and ennoble hearts have lasting remembrance.

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Miss Mitchell says, "I was born of only ordinary capacity, but of extraordinary persistency," and herein is the secret of a great life. She did not dabble in French or music or painting and give it up; she went steadily on to success. Did she neglect home duties? Never. She knit stockings a yard long for her aged father till his death, usually studying while she knit. To those who learn to be industrious early in life, idleness is never enjoyable.

There was another secret of Miss Mitchell's success. She read good books early in life. She says: "We always had books, and were bookish people. There was a public library in Nantucket before I was born. It was not a free library, but we always paid the subscription of one dollar per annum, and always read and studied from it. I remember among its volumes Hannah More's books and Rollin's Ancient History. I remember too that Charles Folger, the present Secretary of the Treasury, and I had both read this latter work through before we were ten years old, though neither of us spoke of it to the other until a later period."

All this study had made Miss Mitchell a superior woman. It was not strange, therefore, that fame should come to her. One autumn night, October, 1847, she was gazing through the telescope, as usual, when, lo! she was startled to perceive an unknown comet. She at once told her father, who thus wrote to Professor William C. Bond, director of the Observatory at Cambridge: --

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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