Dramatic reading by stage, film, and television actress Frances Sternhagen '51 will be presented by Darwin Days at Vassar on March 1, 2010.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—Noted actress and Vassar alumna Frances Sternhagen '51 will return to the stage of the Martel Theater in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film on Monday, March 1, at 7:00pm, to breathe life into a depiction of Vassar's first professor, astronomer Maria Mitchell (1818-1889). The work, "Maria Mitchell: Self Portrait," written by Sternhagen's classmate Barbara Gibbins Duffy '51, will celebrate the life and achievements of Mitchell, a groundbreaking scientist whose academic and professional home was found at Vassar College. Free and open to the public, no reservations are required. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

“My script is based on text drawn from the book, Maria Mitchell: A Life in Journals and Letters, that was edited by Henry Albers, and used with his permission.  For 32 years he [Albers] was a professor of astronomy at Vassar College and occupied the Alumnae Maria Mitchell Chair,” noted writer Duffy. “Professor Albers died in March, 2009, and this reading is dedicated to his memory.” She said that additional material was drawn from the Vassar College Archives and Special Collections as well as the Maria Mitchell Association Archives. This work was performed just once before, also by Sternhagen, on Nantucket Island.

Matthew Vassar hired astronomer Maria Mitchell for his new college and constructed an observatory for her, the first building completed on campus, now a National Historic Landmark. Mitchell was highly regarded for her discovery in 1857 of what would become known worldwide as 'Miss Mitchell's Comet,' the result of systematically sweeping the Nantucket skies with her telescope each evening. For this discovery she received a gold medal from the King of Denmark and was elected into the membership of Boston's Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1847. The telescope she used while at Vassar  is now a focal point of the collection of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Frances Sternhagen, a familiar presence on stage, television, and film, may be most most familiar for her television roles as Bunny MacDougal (Trey's mother) in HBO's Sex and the City or Kyra Sedgwick's mother Willie Ray Johnson on The Closer (appearing with fellow Vassar alumnus Jon Tenney '84). For her stage roles, she has received two Tonys (nominated for five), two Obies, and two Drama Desks, and was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and honored, in 2007, with the Helen Hayes Tribute. Last year, she was the recipient of the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College 2009 Distinguished Achievement Award.
Playwright Duffy is a 1951 graduate of Vassar and a summer resident of Nantucket Island, Maria Mitchell's birthplace.

This dramatic reading is the second of three focusing on women in science presented this spring in celebration of Charles Darwin's 201st birthday by Darwin Days at Vassar, an annual celebration that highlights the connection between science and the humanities. This year Darwin Days expanded its programming beyond the anniversary of the date of Darwin's birth (February 12) with the addiition of the three dramatic presentations about women scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries. These three exemplars of their fields—Mary Anning, Maria Mitchell, and Rachel Carson—explored the earth, sky, and sea, the natural world around us, and their discoveries continue to inspire and resonate today. The final Darwin Days dramatic presentation, A Sense of Wonder, written and performed by Kaiulani Lee, will be on Earth Day (4/22, 7:00pm, Martel Theater, Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film), and will explore the life and work of writer and passionate environmentalist Rachel Carson. Last year was the first celebration of Darwin Days at the college and this year's events will continue to broaden communication between the science and non-science communities at Vassar.

The International Darwin Day Foundation noted that: “Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around February 12, the day that Charles Darwin was born on in 1809. Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin – the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor. More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity.” (

The Darwin Day dramatic readings are presented by the Darwin Days Committee, which consists of Vassar faculty and staff from disciplines all over campus and co-sponsored by the Drama Department. Funds for this series are provided by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, February 25, 2010