Born in 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Maria was the third child of William and Lydia Mitchell, a Quaker family with ten children. She attended Cyrus Peirce's School for Young Ladies and for a time was taught by her father, but was largely self-educated. Few women have been able to break through prejudice and stereotype to become noted scientists the way Maria did. She was the first to discover a comet with the use of a telescope and was the first woman admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the American Philosophical Society. She was a professor of astronomy at Vassar and had a crater on the moon named for her. She led the 1875 Women's Congress. She died in 1889 in Lynn, Massachusetts.