“First, no woman should say, 'I am but a woman!' But a woman! What more can you ask to be?” - Maria Mitchell
Maria (Mar-eye-uh) Mitchell was a renowned astronomer and professor in the 1800s and most likely the first woman to work for the U.S. government in a professional capacity. In 1845, she was hired by the U.S. Coast Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessor agencies, to assist her father on a project to establish cardinal points (each of the four main points of the compass — north, south, east, and west) for latitude and longitude in the U.S. and North America. Here, she was responsible for tracking the movements of the planets and compiling tables of their positions to assist sailors in navigation.
Pam Sullivan, GeoXO and GOES-R System Program Director, on Maria Mitchell’s legacy:
On October 1, 1847, Mitchell became the first American to discover a comet. She named it comet C/1847 T1 offsite link, but it became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” In 1848, King Christian VIII of Denmark awarded her a gold medal prize for the discovery. She was the first American to receive this medal and the first woman to receive an award in astronomy.
Mitchell went on to accept a position at Vassar College offsite link in 1865, becoming the first female professor of astronomy. She was also director of the Vassar College Observatory.
She was the first woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences offsite link and one of the founders of the American Association for the Advancement of Women offsite link, serving as the organization's second president.