Millennial fatigue and Maria Mitchell.

Maria who?

Extra credit if you know the name already! But if not, read on…and you’ll be glad you did.

To begin at the beginning…sometimes streams of consciousness sweep us along to the most interesting and encouraging places…

Last evening I blogged on research by Jean Twenge and others, who observed that Millennials seemed to be fatigued in general, but especially with respect to environmental issues. They seemed to be less involved than their predecessors, the GenXers and the Baby Boomers.

This prompted a thoughtful comment by Tracy Rouleau, who opined that reading about Millennial fatigue was disheartening, but she was ever the optimist…

Well, optimism (a positive attitude despite the facts) is in many respects less to be desired than a realistic view of a situation that is actually more hopeful than it looks to be on the surface. To what extent, or in what way, might fatigue itself be the seed of hope? Could there be something which would be more than platitudes and could give Tracy meaningful encouragement?

In the search for what thoughtful people have had to say on the subject, I came across this quote:

“I made observations for three hours last night, and am almost ill today from fatigue; still I have worked all day, trying to reduce the places [sic], and mean to work hard again tonight.” – Maria Mitchell


Who is/was Maria Mitchell? She must be/have been a scientist of some stripe….time to turn to Wikipedia.

Which came through once again. Of course Wikipedia had an entry for her. You’ll want to read the entire biography, but here are some bits and pieces.

Maria Mitchell was born August 1, 1818, and died June 28, 1889.

She was an American astronomer. In 1847, at the age of 29 she discovered a comet, which then came to be known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” The discovery won her a gold medal prize, presented to her personally by King Frederick VII of Denmark (more on the story in the Wikipedia article). She was one of ten children, raised Quaker. This last detail is significant because Quakers were ahead of their time in terms of their appreciation for intellectual equality between genders. [Later she turned to Unitarianism.]

A year after her discovery of the comet which bears her name, she became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Two years afterward, in 1850, she became the first woman member of the other AAAS – the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1865, she became the first faculty member, man or woman, at Vassar College, where she was made a professor of astronomy. In 1869 she became one of the first women ever elected to the American Philosophical Society. Today the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket runs an astronomical observatory, two museums, and a science library in her name.

The quote above is not her most famous. She’s better known for this:

“We have a hunger of the mind. We ask for all of the knowledge around us, and the more we get the more we desire.”

Millennials (and Millennials at heart) … are we truly fatigued? Really? Let’s ignore our fatigue in favor of feeding our hunger. Let’s remember and emulate the life and example of Maria Mitchell.

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2 Responses to Millennial fatigue and Maria Mitchell.

  1. Amanda says:

    I know Maria Mitchell! We learned about her in astronomy class and, if you are ever in Nantucket, there is a beautiful observatory there named after her and run by a friend of my mom’s from NASA. Really interesting conversation about generational interest in the outdoors. It starts early! Jamie and I had an interesting conversation with a guy who rescues bald eagles a few weeks ago, and I asked him how one becomes an eagle rescuer. He said, “Make sure your kids have lots of time outside to explore and play. Playing soccer is great, but if that’s the only time you go outside, you miss a lot!” Head Start is actually really thinking about outdoor time and the benefits of outdoor play for young children – even infants and toddlers. Tons of benefits for gross motor and sensory development, as well as for prevention of obesity and other health issues, including stress reduction (yes – even in young kids). There’s even some evidence that it helps with eyesight! Unfortunately, there are also places where it is not as safe for kids to be outdoors, and that requires some real resources and creative problem-solving from families for whom outside time might understandably not be a primary priority. No easy solutions here.

    • william hooke says:

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment, Amanda…first, for showing Maria Mitchell’s continuing impact, and second, for expanding the focus of the conversation to the kind of education we need for today’s children if they’re to live effectively on the real world.

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