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March 31, 1886

Poet, editor and ardent abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier wrote to his friend and fellow Quaker, Professor Maria Mitchell, from Danvers, MA. “My dear Friend— I hear thou art raising funds for the Vassar Observatory. I enclose check for ————, just to show my good will, as I am unable to make a subscription in accordance with my wishes. Hoping that thy efforts will be successful, I am thy sincere friend, John G. Whittier.” Mitchell had met Whittier in August 1882, and the two apparently enjoyed each other’s company.

Obliged in her later years, to seek funding where possible to support the work of the Vassar Observatory, Maria Mitchell was somewhat uneasy with the task. On January 25, 1876, she had written to a friend, “It has become a serious question with me whether it is not my duty to beg money for the observatory, while what I really long for is a quiet life of scientific speculation. I want to sit down and study on the observations made by myself and others.” Shortly before receiving Whittier’s letter, she had written, “I have been in New York quite lately, and am quite hopeful that Miss———will do something for Vassar. Mrs. C., of Newburyport, is to ask Whittier, who is said to be rich, and ———told me to get anything I could out of her father. But after all I am a poor beggar; my ideas are small!”

Phebe Mitchell Kendall, ed., Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals

The Years