Family and Childhood

Family and Childhood

Maria Mitchell was born on August 1, 1818 to Quaker parents and as the third of ten children. While growing up, she helped her father with astronomy as well as observed the sky on her own. 

"It was, in the first place, a love of mathematics, seconded by my sympathy with my father's love for astronomical observation. But the spirit of the place had also much to do with the early bent of my mind in this direction."

- Maria Mitchell in an interview with Julia Ward Howe.

The Quakers

The Quakers were a religious group founded in the 1650s by George Fox. They are most well known for believing in an inner light, the idea that everyone has a relationship to god.

A group of men and women dressed in traditional Quaker clothing. Circa 1885. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association. 

"The light checks you, when you speak an evil word,
and tells you that you should not be proud or unrestrained, nor fashion yourselves like the world;
for the fashion of this world passes away."

- A quote by George Fox, the founder of Quakerism.

"And I know of no picture in the history of religion more weakly pitiable than that of the Holy Church trembling before Galileo, and denouncing him because he found in the Book of Nature truths not stated in their own Book of God, forgetting that the Book of Nature is also a Book of God."

- Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell's Family

Maria Mitchell was raised by Quaker parents. Her parents did something rare for the time, they gave their male and female children the same educational opportunities. Because of this upbringing, Maria was able to pursue her interest in Astronomy.

A lithograph of Maria Mitchell's parents. Circa 1850. Courtesy of

"Mr. Mitchell was a man of great suavity and gentleness; if left to himself he would never have denied a single request made to him by one of his children. His first impulse was to gratify every desire of their hearts, and if it had not been for the clear head of the mother, who took care that the household should be managed wisely and economically, the results might have been disastrous. The father had wisdom enough to perceive this, and when a child came to him, and in a very pathetic and winning way proffered some request for an unusual indulgence, he generally replied, 'Yes, if mother thinks best.'"
- Phebe Kendall's, Maria's Sister, description of their father from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals, 1896.

"Mrs. Mitchell was a woman of strong character, very dignified, honest almost to an extreme, and perfectly self-controlled where control was necessary. She possessed very strong affections, but her self-control was such that she was undemonstrative. She kept a close watch over her children, was clearheaded, knew their every fault and every merit, and was an indefatigable worker. It was she who looked out for the education of the children and saw what their capacities were. "
- Phebe Kendall's, Maria's Sister, description of their mother from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals, 1896.

A photo of Maria with her sisters, Maria is the first one standing from the left. Circa 1855. Courtesy of The Nantucket Historical Association. 

A photo of the Pacific National Bank. Maria's family lived here while her father was a banker. Circa 1860. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association

A photo of the house where Maria was born. Circa 1900. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.