In honor of Women’s History Month, a three-part series looks to the past, present and future of women in STEM. Today, AAAS looks back to several accomplished women in its history.
Women have had a role in AAAS dating back to its earliest days more than 170 years ago. In 1847, Maria Mitchell was a Nantucket librarian who had learned how to operate a range of astronomical instruments from her father, himself an amateur astronomer. She was scanning the skies with a telescope when she noticed an unusual movement in the sky. She published her findings early the following year as well as her calculations of the comet’s orbit, cementing her status as the first American to discover a new comet. She quickly became known for her discovery – today it is known as C/1847 T1, but in her day, it was best known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” Mitchell continued her scientific work throughout her life, traveling the world to meet with fellow scientists and intellectuals, then serving for more than 20 years as a professor at Vassar College and director of the college’s observatory.
In 1848, AAAS was founded to promote the development of science and engineering across the country and to represent the interests of all scientific disciplines. In 1850, Mitchell became one of the first female members, along with entomologist Margaretta Morris and botanist and educator Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps. In the 1870s, Mitchell was honored as a AAAS Fellow.