Maria Mitchell Association

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Loines Observatory of the Maria Mitchell Association

The Maria Mitchell Association is a private non-profit organization on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts. The association owns the Maria Mitchell Observatory, a second observatory (the Loines Observatory), a Natural History Museum, the Maria Mitchell Aquarium at Nantucket Harbor, a history museum that is the birthplace of Maria Mitchell, and a Science Library. Staff members of the Maria Mitchell Association conduct research into topics as varied as astrophysics and the American Burying Beetle,[1][2][3][4][5] amongst other scientific topics. The properties offer a variety of science and history-related programming and are on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the rest of the island.

Components and buildings[edit]

The Maria Mitchell Association's buildings are located in various areas on the island[6] including four that are adjacent to each other on the hill in Natucket town.[7] These include the Historic Mitchell House located at 1 Vestal Street. It preserves the birthplace of Maria Mitchell, and contains many heirlooms of Maria Mitchell and her family. The Science Library located at 2 Vestal Street houses archives and special collections. The Natural Science Museum, at the corner of Milk and Vestal Streets, has several rooms of permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as a shop with books and gifts. The main Vestal Street Observatory, at 3 Vestal Street, includes the offices of the two working astronomers and has a few exhibits such as Maria Mitchell's famed telescope. The Loines Observatory at 59 Milk Street is used primarily for research and on clear nights offers viewings to the public.[7] An Aquarium and shop is located at 28 Washington Street, down the hill at Nantucket Harbor.

Admission is charged for the public to visit each site,[7] for programs, and for membership. A discounted special ticket is available during the summer for sale to the public to see the House, Museum, Vestal Obervatory, and Aquarium for one price. Tours are offered every day during the summer at 11:00 a.m.

The Historic Mitchell House[edit]

The Historic Mitchell House preserves the birthplace of Maria Mitchell.[8][9] It was built in 1790, and occupied by the Mitchell family from 1818, the year of Maria Mitchell's birth.[8][9] The House contains many artifacts of Maria Mitchell and her family, including a tall-case clock, one of her telescopes, and other artifacts.[8][9]

The research library includes Mitchell's papers, as well as other historical and scientific material. The House remains very much in its original condition with original decorative paint. Guided tours are provided to the public in-season and children’s and adult history classes and historic preservation workshops are offered.The research library includes Mitchell's personal and work related papers, her personal library, the papers and libraries of her family, and the Special Collection Library which includes rare books concerning astronomy, the natural science, and Nantucket some dating back to the 1600s. The Archives and Special Collections are open by appointment only for research purposes.

Natural Science Museum[edit]

The Natural Science Museum is across the street from Mitchell House. It honors general ecology.

MMA (Nantucket) Aquarium[edit]

See main article: Maria Mitchell Aquarium

The MMA Aquarium, also known as the Nantucket Aquarium, is on the site of the historic ticket office of the former Nantucket Railroad at 28 Washington Street.[10][11] It is located at directly on the shoreline of the Nantucket Harbor,[10] which empties out into the Nantucket Sound. Specimens are primarily drawn from the waters around Nantucket, and are released back to those waters at the end of each summer.[10][11] Because the Gulf Stream passes by the Atlantic Ocean side of the island, some tropical fish are frequently on exhibit.[10] The Aquarium offers programs, including a "feeding frenzy".[10]


The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) was founded in 1902 to preserve the legacy of Nantucket native, astronomer, naturalist, librarian, and educator, Maria Mitchell. After she discovered a comet in 1847, Mitchell’s international fame led to many achievements and awards, including an appointment as the first American Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College. Mitchell died in 1889.[12]


Maria Mitchell believed in "learning by doing" and today that philosophy is reflected in MMA's mission statement, programs, research projects, and other activities.[12] Its motto of "Explore, Educate, Enjoy" is reflected in its three major programs: research in both astronomy and natural sciences, education and mentoring of aspiring scientists (especially women), and museums for the public to enjoy.[12]

Each summer, the MMA offers "Summer Discovery Classes Program" for children of various ages, and during the school year to the Nantucket Public Schools.[13] The MMA also offers environmental education programs to families [14] as well as astronomy and natural science programs for adults.[15]

The MMA also offers lesson plans, and programs to teachers in local school systems.[16]

Major staff and research[edit]

The staff members of the Association continue to conduct research into a wide variety of topics from galaxy formation and star clusters, to spiders, molluscs, and the American Burying Beetle.[17] They have mentored many aspiring scientists.

Michael West is the current Director of the Maria Mitchell Observatory. He received his PhD in astronomy from Yale University in 1987. His previous experience includes positions as Head of Science in Chile for the European Southern Observatory, Head of Science Operations at Gemini Observatory in Chile and Professor of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. His research focuses on star clusters, the birth and death of galaxies, and the large–scale structure of the universe and he is a frequent user of leading telescopes around the world and the Hubble Space Telescope. He is also dedicated to public outreach, having overseen astronomy content development for the 28 million dollar NASA-funded Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii and authored a book titled A Gentle Rain of Starlight: The Story of Astronomy on Mauna Kea. He currently leads a working group for the International Astronomical Union on New Ways of Communicating Astronomy with the Public.

Andrew McKenna-Foster is the current Director of the Maria Mitchell Natural Science.[1][2][3] He graduated from Colby College in 2004 with a bachelor's in physics,[18] and studied environmental science.[19] He earned a master's in Environmental Science and Policy from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay in 2009.[20][21][22] McKenna-Foster has been active in re-introducing the American Burying Beetle to the island of Nantucket.[1][2][4][5] Other major research topics for McKenna-Foster have been carabid ground beetles,[23] and spiders in Massachusetts,[20][22] as well as in Wisconsin.[21] As an undergraduate, he also did research in quantum optics[18] and ecology.[19]

Jascin Leonardo Finger is the Curator of the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections. She holds an undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College in History and a Master of Arts in History with a focus on women and gender studies. Her master’s thesis is titled “The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island: How Island Women from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries Lived a Life Contrary to Other American Women.” Leonardo Finger has served as curator since 1999 and during her tenure the Mitchell House has completed extensive conservation projects, as well as been recognized as one of the top ten women’s history sites in the country and awarded the Nantucket Preservation Trust’s 2012 Architectural Preservation Award. She serves on the Historic Structures Advisory Board for the town of Nantucket, the Nantucket Historic District Commission, and is a trustee of the historic Coffin School.


  1. ^ a b c "Saving the Beetles", Yesterday's Island, June 18–24, 2009, found at Yesterday's Island website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c "American Burying Beetle Project," found at Maria Mitchell Association website research webpage. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Invertebrates In Education and Conservation Conference, July 24, 2009, found at SASI online. September 2, 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Acknowledgments: Many contributed long hours, tireless research, and continuous dedication. Our team includes ... Andrew Mckenna Foster biologist with the Maria Mitchell Association for his work and dedication to the recovery effort....", "American Burying Beetle: First Terrestrial Invertebrate on the Species Survival Plan," found at Roger Williams park Zoo website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Andrew Mckenna-Foster, William T. Maple, and Robert S. Kennedy, "American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) survey and reintroduction on Nantucket 2005." found at St. Louis Zoo website]. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  6. ^ Maria Mitchell Association official website Main page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Mitchell Association official website Facilities page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  8. ^ a b c Discover Nantucket website Mitchell House page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c Maria Mitchell Association official website House page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c d e Mitchell Association official website Marine sciences page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  11. ^ a b Discover Nantucket website MMA Aquarium page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  12. ^ a b c Maria Mitchell Association website About page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  13. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Educational programs for children page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  14. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Educational programs for families page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  15. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Educational programs for adults page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  16. ^ Maria Mitchell Association website Teacher resources page. Accessed September 3, 2009.
  17. ^ Maria Mitchell Association Research collections. Accessed March 8, 2012.
  18. ^ a b Colby College website, Physics majors page. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  19. ^ a b "Class Presentation and Report Materials: This fall the students in the Problems in Environmental Science class conducted a watershed analysis of Threemile Pond," found at Colby College website, Class Presentation page. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  20. ^ a b Sarah D. Oktay, "Creepy Crawlers," Yesterday's Island, August 21–27, 2008, found at Yesterday's Island website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  21. ^ a b Rachel Rivard, "Spider fan finds Green Bay a ‘great fit’," May 4, 2009, found at University of Wisconsin–Green Bay website "inside student learning" pages. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  22. ^ a b "Terrestrial Insects and Spiders of Wachusett's Forests," found at Friends of Wachusett website. Accessed September 2, 2009.
  23. ^ "Public Programs: 3rd Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative Week, Sunday, May 25 to Saturday, May 31, 2008," Man About Town, found at Man About Town website (.pdf) Accessed September 2, 2009.

External links[edit]