Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Maria Mitchell: The Soul of an Astronomer

Maria Mitchell: The Soul of an Astronomer

Beatrice Gormley
For ages 12 and up
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1995   ISBN: 0802852645

Maria Mitchell lived on the island of Nantucket with her large Quaker family. Her father, who was a much admired amateur astronomer, passed on his passion and his skills to Maria, who was soon was gazing up into the night sky with her father and who was also able to help the local fishing community with their navigation charts because her understanding of the night sky was so good.

After having worked as a teacher, at the age of eighteen Maria got a job which was perfectly suited to her. She was given the post of librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum. Here Maria was able to read and educate herself to her heart’s content and it is doubtful that any college of the time could have educated her better than she did herself.

Maria lived in relatively quiet obscurity until the day in 1847 when she saw a comet. As it happened she was the first person to fully recognize what she was seeing. Friends and colleagues in the astronomy field were determined that Maria’s discovery should be given due credit and a year after her sighting of the comet Maria was awarded a prestigious international award. She was the first America and the first woman to get the award.

Winning the award made Maria an instant celebrity. She did not care for this state of affairs at first but it did end up opening doors for her which she could not help appreciating. She was given a government job which she could not refuse. And later she was offered a professorship at Vassar, the new women’s college. It was this position which gave Maria the greatest pleasure of all. Helping young women expand their horizons and encouraging them to believe in themselves gave her life purpose and direction. She was determined to prove that women could be great scientists and that women deserved to be given a good education.

This excellent biography tells the story of a woman who served those who needed her with kindness and determination. She was an advocate for women’s rights and she refused to accept that women were not capable of as rigorous an education as men. As far as she was concerned there was nothing a woman could not do in the field of science and many of her students went on to prove her point.

The author clearly has a great deal of admiration for Maria Mitchell. She has taken great care to understand Maria not just with regard to her work, but also on a personal level. This is both interesting and thought provoking and the author has presented this side of Maria’s personality very well.