Maria Mitchell: Breaking Barriers to Prove the Sky Is Not the Limit for Women

A photo of Maria Mitchell, standing holding a hat, and her astronomy class. 1878. Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Vassar College. 


During the 19th Century, women were faced with many barriers created by a society that praised women who stayed home and a strict adherence to the idea of separate spheres. Maria (Ma-RYE-ah) Mitchell broke through these barriers with her historic astronomy career that showed that women could excel in astronomy and other scientific fields, uprooted the Vassar pay structure to make it based on experience, and encouraged other women to stand up for the social causes, like women's education, that they believed in.

Reganne Watts

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"Non frustra signorum obitus specularmur et ortus" - The Latin inscription on the medal awarded to Maria Mitchell for her comet discovery meaning 'Not in vain do we watch the setting and the rising of the stars.'