Friday, February 26, 2010

Darwin Days at Vassar College

At 7 p.m., on March 1st, 2010, I'll be introducing Frances Sternhagen for a dramatic reading about Vassar's first Professor, Maria Mitchell.  The event will take place in Martel Theater at Vassar College.  Maria Mitchell started her career at Vassar College in 1865 as America's first female professor.  Though Maria Mitchell was an internationally recognized Astronomer, she did not hold a college degree since formal education was a rare opportunity for women at the time.  Maria Mitchell was not only a passionate researcher but also a creative educator and feminist.  Professor Mitchell hosted "Dome Parties" during which she wrote poems about her students.  During this party Professor Mitchell served strawberries while poems were read.  One of the poems reads,

While Saturn's ring is poised aright
And Saturn's moons still glow
The five who watched them many a night
Will not from memory go. "

The current director of the Vassar Observatory, Professor Fred Chromey, brought Maria Mitchell's dome parties back to life, only he serves Turkey in a Tuxedo.

The Maria Mitchell Professorship at Vassar College is still held by one of the most famous astronomers in the world.  The current Maria Mitchell Professor is Professor Debrah Elmegreen, who is currently serving as the president of the American Astronomical Society.  Professor Elmegreen has also recently travelled to Vatican City to receive a medal from the current pope.  Interestingly enough, Maria Mitchell was the first woman to even enter the Vatican Observatory.

The dramatic reading about Maria Mitchell was written by Vassar alumn, Barbara Gibbins Duffy and performed by her very famous classmate Frances Sternhagen.

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