If you visit the Google home page today (August 1), you will notice an illustration of a woman looking through a telescope at a comet. That’s Maria Mitchell, the first person to identify a comet using a telescope. Prior to that, the only known comets were those that could be seen with the naked eye. The comet was referred to as Miss Mitchell’s Comet at the time.
Maria was born on August 1, 1818 in Massachusetts to a Quaker family. Her father had an interest in astronomy, and Maria grew to share his passion – and ultimately to make it her career.
My friend, Crystal Lake resident Patrick Murfin, wrote a story about her that he posted on his blog today – that’s how I learned about Maria and her accomplishments.
Among other achievements, ahe was the first woman on the faculty at Vassar College where she taught until retiring at age 69. Her appointment to the faculty was controversial because she was female, and while there, she fought to receive pay equal to her male colleagues. This struck me as particularly funny since Vassar was founded as a school for women to ensure that they had access to a quality college education!
You are now thinking: what does this blog have to do with land, conservation, nature or the environment?
Well, Maria said that her inspiration came from Nature rather than God (which was heresey at the time and got her kicked out of the Quaker Church), and her love of the cosmos was a part of her wanting to understand how the Universe worked.
Mostly, I wanted to share her story here because like many of us who love nature and work for its benefit, Maria didn't let social conventions keep her from pursuing her passions. She was born in a time when women did not attend college, did not have careers (let alone careers in science), and certainly did not teach at the college level! So, this young woman learned as much as she could on her own and applied her intelligence to studying the cosmos, ultimately securing a College faculty position teaching Astronomy!
Today, those of us in the conservation field replace the conventional lawn with prairie, install rainbarrels and raingardens to capture and harvest rainwater instead of sending it to the storm sewer, and take other steps to reduce our "footprints" on the Earth even if our neighbors look at us strangely.
These actions may not earn any of us the honor of being featured on the Google home page, but they certainly make a difference for future generations, just as Maria's efforts made a difference for all women since her time!