Beyond Vassar

Maria Mitchell Sighting

By Samantha Soper '91

Last fall, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History reopened after an extensive two-year renovation. The museum holds more than three million artifacts in its collection, including the 1865 refracting telescope that Professor Maria Mitchell used at Vassar. Vassar donated the telescope to the Smithsonian in the 1960s, and it has often been used in special exhibitions. But today, it is touted as one of the museum’s six landmark artifacts, to highlight the theme of the Science and Innovation Wing. 

Maria Mitchell Old telescope
Maria Mitchell Old telescope
Other objects that are used to introduce divisions include the Greensboro lunch counter, famous for its significance in the civil rights movement; the Horatio Greenough statue of George Washington; and a 1955 car from the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride from Disneyland. “Maria Mitchell was the role model for so many American women for many generations, and we wanted to celebrate her and her students,” said Curator Deborah Warner. Mitchell was the nation’s first female professional astronomer and the first Vassar faculty member. About three million visitors tour the National Museum of American History annually.