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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Maria Mitchell

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Mr. Vassar lived but three years after his beloved institution was opened. June 23, 1868, the day before commencement, he had called the members of the Board around him to listen to his customary address. Suddenly, when he had nearly finished, his voice ceased, the paper dropped from his hand, and--he was dead! His last gifts amounted to over five hundred thousand dollars, making in all $989,122.00 for the college. The poor lad wrought as he had hoped, a blessing "to the country and the world." His nephews, Matthew Vassar, Jr., and John Guy Vassar, have given over one hundred and forty thousand dollars.

After the observatory was completed, there was but one wish as to who should occupy it; of course, the person desired was Maria Mitchell. She hesitated to accept the position. Her father was seventy and needed her care, but he said, "Go, and I will go with you." So she left her Lynn home for the arduous position of a teacher. For four years Mr. Mitchell lived to enjoy the enthusiastic work of his gifted daughter. He said, "Among the teachers and pupils I have made acquaintances that a prince might covet."

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Miss Mitchell makes the observatory her home. Here are her books, her pictures, her great astronomical clock, and a bust of Mrs. Somerville, the gift of Frances Power Cobbe. Here for twenty years she has helped to make Vassar College known and honored both at home and abroad. Hundreds have been drawn thither by her name and fame. A friend of mine who went, intending to stay two years, remained five, for her admiration of and enjoyment in Miss Mitchell. She says: "She is one of the few genuine persons I have ever known. There is not one particle of deceit about her. For girls who accomplish something, she has great respect; for idlers, none. She has no sentimentality, but much wit and common sense. No one can be long under her teaching without learning dignity of manner and self-reliance."

She dresses simply, in black or gray, somewhat after the fashion of her Quaker ancestors. Once when urging economy upon the girls, she said, "All the clothing I have on cost but seventeen dollars, and four suits would last each of you a year." There was a quiet smile, but no audible expression of a purpose to adopt Miss Mitchell's style of dress.

The pupils greatly honor and love the undemonstrative woman, who, they well know, would make any sacrifices for their well-being. Each week the informal gatherings at her rooms, where various useful topics are discussed, are eagerly looked forward to. Chief of all, Miss Mitchell's own bright and sensible talk is enjoyed. Her "dome parties," held yearly in June, under the great dome of the observatory, with pupils coming back from all over the country, original poems read and songs sung, are among the joys of college life.

All these years the astronomer's fame has steadily increased. In 1868, in the great meteoric shower, she and her pupils recorded the paths of four thousand meteors, and gave valuable data of their height above the earth. In the summer of 1869 she joined the astronomers who went to Burlington, Iowa, to observe the total eclipse of the sun, Aug. 7. Her observations on the transit of Venus were also valuable. She has written much on the Satellites of Saturn, and has prepared a work on the Satellites of Jupiter.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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