Amy Brill

2005 Baron Fellow
Writer
Brooklyn, NY

amybrill.com
@amy_brill

Research at AAS

 

The Movement of Stars

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different—and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.

Hannah Gardner Price’s story was inspired by Maria Mitchell, America’s first professional female astronomer. Miss Mitchell was born on Nantucket on August 1, 1818, into a large Quaker family, and Hannah shares a number of attributes with her: diligence and intellectual rigor; impatience with the constraints upon women’s freedom and education; a job at the Nantucket Atheneum; and a father and mentor without whose guidance they might not have progressed. Like Hannah, Maria Mitchell got her start as an assistant to her father, an amateur astronomer and surveyor. At age 29, she discovered a telescopic comet using only her Dollond telescope. After earning a gold medal from the King of Denmark for her finding, she gained international acclaim and was hired as a computer for the Nautical Almanac. In 1865, she was the first professor hired by Vassar College, where she remained until her retirement in 1888. In her later years especially, she was a strong advocate for women’s suffrage, a firm believer in equal rights for men and women, and an outspoken supporter of women in science.

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