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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Maria Mitchell

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    MY DEAR FRIEND,--I write now merely to say that
    Maria discovered a telescopic comet at half-past ten on
    the evening of the first instant, at that hour nearly above
    Polaris five degrees. Last evening it had advanced
    westerly; this evening still further, and nearing the pole.
    It does not bear illumination. Maria has obtained its
    right ascension and declination, and will not suffer me to
    announce it. Pray tell me whether it is one of Georgi's,
    and whether it has been seen by anybody. Maria supposes
    it may be an old story. If quite convenient, just
    drop a line to her; it will oblige me much. I expect to
    leave home in a day or two, and shall be in Boston next
    week, and I would like to have her hear from you before I
    can meet you. I hope it will not give thee much trouble
    amidst thy close engagements. Our regards are to all of
    you most truly.


The answer showed that Miss Mitchell had indeed made a new discovery. Frederick VI., King of Denmark, had, sixteen years before, offered a gold medal of the value of twenty ducats to whoever should discover a telescopic comet. That no mistake might be made as to the real discoverer, the condition was made that word be sent at once to the Astronomer Royal of England. This the Mitchells had not done, on account of their isolated position. Hon. Edward Everett, then President of Harvard College, wrote to the American Minister at the Danish Court, who in turn presented the evidence to the King. "It would gratify me," said Mr. Mitchell, "that this generous monarch should know that there is a love of science even in this, to him, remote corner of the earth."

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The medal was at last awarded, and the woman astronomer of Nantucket found herself in the scientific journals and in the press as the discoverer of "Miss Mitchell's Comet." Another had been added to the list of Mary Somervilles and Caroline Herschels. Perhaps there was additional zest now in the mathematical work in the Coast Survey. She also assisted in compiling the American Nautical Almanac, and wrote for the scientific periodicals. Did she break down from her unusual brain work? Oh, no! Probably astronomical work was not nearly so hard as her mother's,--the care of a house and ten children!

For ten years more Miss Mitchell worked in the library, and in studying the heavens. But she had longed to see the observatories of Europe, and the great minds outside their quiet island. Therefore, in 1857, she visited England, and was at once welcomed to the most learned circles. Brains always find open doors. Had she been rich or beautiful simply, Sir John Herschel, and Lady Herschell as well, would not have reached out both hands, and said, "You are always welcome at this house," and given her some of his own calculations? and some of his Aunt Caroline's writing. Had she been rich or handsome simply, Alexander Von Humboldt would not have taken her to his home, and, seating himself beside her on the sofa, talked, as she says, "on all manner of subjects, and on all varieties of people. He spoke of Kansas, India, China, observatories; of Bache, Maury, Gould, Ticknor, Buchanan, Jefferson, Hamilton, Brunow, Peters, Encke, Airy, Leverrier, Mrs. Somerville, and a host of others."

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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