Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Bicentennial of Maria Mitchell's Birth

Today marks the bicentennial of the birth of the distinguished astronomer Maria Mitchell.  Mitchell, born in Nantucket, discovered a comet in 1847 and was lauded at the famous Seneca Falls Convention the following year.  She was a longtime, influential faculty member at Vassar College and was a woman’s pioneer in a number of prestigious academic societies.  

This medal was released to honor her as a member of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, to which she was elected in 1905 along with two other female teachers, Mary Lyon and Frances E. Willard. 

The Hall of Fame of Great Americans, located in New York City, was once a big deal.  Complete with an outdoor courtyard of busts of the honorees, it was  owned by New York University and is now part of the Bronx Community College.  The colonnade was designed by the great architect Stanford White. 

But politics and biases entered in the selection process and, over the years, funds were lacking to run and maintain the program and site.  There have been no selections for decades.

Still, as a boy I was riveted to reading the list of honorees that was posted annually in the almanac.  It seemed to me, as a precocious historian, that these people were, indeed, the “greatest” Americans.  Some  were, but others are rather obscure today. 

Anyway, three cheers for Maria Mitchell, who certainly was deserving of being identified as a great American.

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