Quotes by and about Maria Mitchell

We gave below two collections of quotes, the first by Maria Mitchell herself, and the second collection consists of comments of others.

1. Quotes by Maria Mitchell

I can well recollect the first day I began to go to school. It was a day looked upon with trembling notwithstanding candy and figs to make me willing. I had been told my school dame was clever and handsome and though only four years old I had determined if I did not like her looks, neither to read nor do anything else she wished me to. I remember my disappointment on entering the school room to see a stout solid matron of about forty with a large nose and larger chin and little bright sparkling eyes approach me and take my hand from my mother's as my mother was leaving the room, and seat me on a little bench. I did not like her looks and when she said, "Maria, my dear, come and read," I made her think I did not hear her. She repeated her command, but I remained as immovable as before. "Never mind," said she looking to the larger girls, "She will be a better girl by and by" - "No, I shan't," cried I, giving myself a shake. "Here," said she, "come and get this apple." I walked up and held out my apron to receive it. I recollect well how provoked I felt when she said, "Now read first," and how reluctantly I took the book and read in the poorest manner possible, a short sentence. Yet I found this a trifle to merely read; I had soon lessons to get, and what was worse to say, and by rote too; without understanding a sentence.

For women, there are undoubtedly great difficulties in the path, but so much the more to overcome. First, no woman should say, 'I am but a woman.' But a woman! What more can you ask to be. Born a woman, born with the average brain of humanity, born with more than the average heart, if you are mortal what higher destiny could you have. No matter where you are nor what you are, you are a power. Your influence is incalculable, personal influence is always underrated by the person. We are all centres of spheres - we see the portions of the sphere above us, and we see how little we affect it. We forget the part of the sphere around and before us - it extends just as far every way.

We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry. There will come with the greater love of science greater love to one another. Living more nearly to Nature is living farther from the world and its follies, but nearer to the world's people; it is to be of them, and for them, and especially for their improvement. We cannot see how impartially Nature gives of her riches to all, without loving all, and helping all; and if we cannot learn through Nature's laws the certainty of spiritual truths, we can at least learn to promote spiritual growth while we are together, and live in a trusting hope of a greater growth in the future. The great gain would be freedom of thought.

The woman who does her work better than ever woman did before helps all woman kind, not only now, but in all the future, she moves the whole race no matter if it is only a differential movement, it is growth.

Standing under the canopy of the stars, you can scarcely do a petty deed or think a wicked thought.

Our lack of opportunity was our opportunity - our privations were our privileges, our needs were our stimulants - we are what we are partly because we had little and wanted much, and it is hard to tell which was the more powerful factor.

Nature made woman an observer, and the schools and schoolbooks have spoiled her.

I am always afraid of manual-labour schools. I am not afraid that these girls could not read, for every American girl reads, and to read is much more important than to cook; but I am afraid that not all can write - some of them were not more than twelve years old. And what of the boys? Must a common cook always be a girl? and must a boy not cook unless on the top of the ladder, with the pay of the president of Harvard College?

There is this great danger in student life. Now, we rest all upon what Socrates said, or what Copernicus taught; how can we dispute authority which has come down to us, all established, for ages? We must at least question it; we cannot accept anything as granted, beyond the first mathematical formulae. Question everything else.

The greatest object in educating is to give a right habit of study.

Women, more than men, are bound by tradition and authority. What the father, the brother, the doctor, and the minister have said has been received undoubtedly. Until women throw off this reverence for authority they will not develop. When they do this, when they come to truth through their own investigations, when doubts lead them to discovery, the truth they get will be theirs, and their minds will go on unfettered.

1.12. Written in 1873.
One wonders, in a country so rich as ours, that so few men and women gratify their tastes by founding scholarships and aids for the tuition of girls - it must be such a pleasant way of spending money.

1.13. Written in 1873.
When the American girl carries her energy into great questions of humanity, into the practical problems of life; when she takes home to her heart the interests of education, of government, and of religion, what may we not hope for our country!

We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire; the more we see, the more we are capable of seeing.

1.15. Written after attending a scientific meeting.
It is really amusing to find one's self lionized in a city where one has visited quietly for years; to see the doors of fashionable mansions open wide to receive you, which never opened before. One does enjoy acting the part of greatness for a while! I was tired after three days of it, and glad to take the cars and run away.

To know what one ought to do is certainly the hardest thing in life. 'Doing' is comparatively easy.

One must know what one wants to be. In the latter endeavours irresolution produces false steps, and in the life of the mind confused ideas.

If the food for the body is more important than the food for the mind, let us destroy the latter and accept the former, but let us not continue to do what has been tried for fifteen hundred years, - to keep one half of the world to the starvation of the mind, in order to feed better the physical condition of the other half.

For a college to form, for any young girl, a habit of earning money, gives her a lifelong advantage.

Does anyone suppose that any woman in all the ages has had a fair chance to show what she could do in science? The laws of nature are not discovered by accidents; theories do not come by chance, even to the greatest minds; they are not born of the hurry and worry of daily toil; they are diligently sought, they are patiently waited for, they are received with cautious reserve, they are accepted with reverence and awe. And until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss the question of their capacity for original work.

The best that can be said of my life so far is that it has been industrious, and the best that can be said of me is that I have not pretended to what I was not.

2. Quotes about Maria Mitchell

2.1. Quote by one of her pupils:
If it were only possible to tell you of what Professor Mitchell did for one of her girls! 'Her girls!' It meant so much to come into daily contact with such a woman! There is no need of speaking of her ability; the world knows what that was. But as her class-room was unique, having something of home in its belongings, so its atmosphere differed from that of all others. Anxiety and nervous strain were left outside of the door. Perhaps one clue to her influence may be found in her remark to the senior class in astronomy when we entered upon its last year: 'We are women studying together.'

2.2. Quote by Mary M Whitney:
As a teacher, Miss Mitchell's gift was that of stimulus, not that of drill. She could not drill; she would not drive. But no honest student could escape the pressure of her strong will and earnest intent. The marking system she held in contempt, and wished to have nothing to do with it. 'You cannot mark a human mind,' she said, 'because there is no intellectual unit;' and upon taking up her duties as professor she stipulated that she should not be held responsible for a strict application of the system.

2.3. Quote by Helen Wright:
Maria Mitchell never forgot the experience of the 1831 eclipse, the darkness, the stillness, the dawning sense that she was part of a great and orderly universe.

2.4. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
Every woman speaker of note in that day ... were personal friends of Miss Mitchell, and at various times her guests at the observatory. Sometimes one would be invited to speak before the whole college, as when Mrs Howe recited there her Battle Hymn of the Republic and Mrs Livermore told the story of her war experiences in a hospital. But the observatory was chiefly the place of meeting, with spirited talk and free discussion. What delightful evenings were there when a favoured few were asked to meet distinguished guests! What personal anecdote and reminiscence! And what good coffee at the end!

2.5. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
She avoided irritating discussion and heated argument. Two friends of hers had cause of dispute, and as it happened one day in her presence the pros and cons of the case were being gone over pretty vigorously. Suddenly she interfered, - "This subject is never to be alluded to again - pause - twinkle - unless I bring it up myself."

2.6. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
The earliest reports of departments were read in detail at Board meetings, and Miss Mitchell had a satisfaction that her labour in making out statistics had not been wasted - seeming, then, to count in significance and importance. In later years, this proceeding was no longer practicable. Entering the President's office one morning she inquired a little aggressively, - "Into the oblivion of whose hands do I consign this paper?" "Mine," came the meek reply, disarming her completely.

2.7. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
I came upon her one day comparing with vexed expression her watch with the lodge clock: - "Better no clock there at all than one always a little wrong." "But why do you mind? You are not to blame - have nothing to do with it." She turned quickly, her eyes flashing, - "How would you like to hear bad English used persistently in your class all the time in spite of yourself? This clock affects me the same way!"

2.8. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
Once as her associate teacher left the room where we were sitting in the observatory, Miss Mitchell looked after her lovingly, - "Mary Whitney is perfection, but she has one fault. She doesn't always shut the door behind her."

2.9. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
She appreciated gifts of flowers, and trifles that she could share, but once refused a lovely vase to stand on her study table, - "I should have to dust it." Hearing her speak of wishing to see a volume of essays by John Weiss, the book was purchased and carried over to her. Later she returned it with thanks, - "I have read this with much enjoyment. Now take it home and keep it. I do not want to accumulate things - too much trouble when I come to break up."

2.10. Quote by Frances A Wood, Vassar College librarian:
Her "Dome" parties for her students at the end of the year were famous, and she was busy weeks beforehand composing her "poetry" for the occasion. She had a natural gift in impromptu rhyming, and what was bestowed on her girls was treasured years after.

2.11. Quote by John Greenleaf Whittier:
I cannot conceive that the soul of Maria Mitchell can ever die.

Last Updated June 2023