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Maria Mitchell

America’s first female astronomer

Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) was already famous when she began teaching at Vassar College in 1865. In 1847, she had observed a never-seen-before comet and received a gold medal from the King of Demark, thus becoming one of the first Americans to win any medal for science. Vassar College was the first school offering women resources comparable to those at the leading colleges for men. Mitchell’s move to Poughkeepsie, New York, to become the professor of astronomy at Vassar represented a considerable step forward in the education of women in science.


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Postcard showing a woman sitting on the observing chair in front of a large refracting telescope. The accompanying text reads, “Prof. Maria Mitchell in the Observatory at Vassar College. June 1878.” The back is divided, with space for the address on the right and space for a message on the left. It is marked “Printed in Germany for Henry S. Wyer, Nantucket, Mass., U.S.A. No. 582” and indicates that a 1¢ stamp is required for domestic use and a 2¢ stamp for foreign use.
Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) was America’s first woman astronomer, America’s first woman scientist of note, and the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College.
Henry Sherman Wyer (1847-1920) was a photographer from Nantucket who published many of the earliest postcards of that island community. He was also active in the Nantucket Historical Society and the Maria Mitchell Association.
While the photograph on this postcard was taken in 1878, the postcard was published between March 1, 1907, (when postcards with a divided back were first permitted in the U.S.) and 1917 (when the domestic postage for a postcard was raised to 2¢).
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Paul Neely
Mitchell, Maria
Wyer, Henry Sherman
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cardboard (overall material)
overall: 8.8 cm x 14.2 cm; 3 15/32 in x 5 19/32 in
overall: 3 7/16 in x 5 1/2 in; 8.73125 cm x 13.97 cm
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National Museum of American History
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