The total solar eclipse of 1878 also brought the first professional female astronomer out west, Maria Mitchell. Maria grew up learning astronomy from her father and helped him calculate the exact time of an annular eclipse when she was only 12 years old. Maria’s first solo accomplishment was the discovery of a comet at the age of 29. In 1865 Maria became a professor of astronomy at Vassar College where she fought to be paid equal to the male professors at the college.
During the Wyoming eclipse of 1878 Maria organized a group of female astronomy students and traveled out west to Denver. A group of women travelling without men was unheard of at the time. Maria and her 5 students traveled over 2000 miles by train and then ventured to the countryside outside of Denver to set up camp. This type of hands on education and research was also new at the time.
Using large refracting telescopes with solar filters the students were given instructions on what observations to make.
“You will see Nature as you never saw it before – it will neither be day nor night – open your senses to all the revelations. Let your eyes take note of the colors of Earth and Sky. Observe the tint of the Sun. Look for a gleam of light in the horizon. Notice the color of the foliage. Use another sense – notice if flowers give forth the odors of evening. Listen if the animals show signs of fear – if the dog barks – if the owl shrieks – if the birds cease to sing – if the bee ceases its hum – if the butterfly stops its flight – it is said that even the ant pauses with its burden and no longer gives the lesson to the sluggard.”