Maria Mitchell’s Attic
An Astronomer

I first remember her standing at the entry to Loines Observatory with a small metal clicker in her hand.  It was summer and it was dark.  Mosquitoes were swarming and we all smelled like bug spray.  It was a Wednesday night and we had just made the long – or so it seemed in those days – journey from Tom Nevers for an Open Night – the event of the week for my family.  She was sort of quiet and reserved but she reached out to my brother each Wednesday night when we arrived at the top of the stairs by saying, “Want to press the clicker?”  Sounds like not much but to a nine year old budding astronomer, my brother was very excited to “click” his family members into the open night.

I got to know her a little more as I began to volunteer at the Mitchell House.  I think she probably saw me as a pesky kid, but she seemed to warm up to me over time.  Maybe I proved to her that I had some staying power – that I was not just a kid who got pushed into doing some summer volunteering.  (Twenty-five plus years later I am still here and curator – really?!  Time flies!)  She was an interesting person, an incredibly intelligent woman who had a deep love and respect for Maria Mitchell, but she did not reveal too much about herself.

When I completed my masters’ degree in 2010, the MMA very nicely congratulated me via our monthly “eComet.”  A week or so later, I went into my email and saw a sender with a familiar name, one I was completely shocked to see as I had never received an email from this person.  The sender was “emiliab.”  I was surprised, worried, and wondered what it was.  I saved it.  It reads: 

“Congratulations on your degree.  I am hoping you have a computer-readable copy of your thesis you can send me by email … I’ll do without the pictures if I can read {your} paper that way.  Thanks!  Lee (Emilia) Belserene.” 

Wow!  I practically burst my buttons – I was so proud and honored that she wanted to read my research.    

I am so lucky to have worked for the MMA for all these years and to now serve as the Mitchell House curator.  I have been fortunate to have such amazing people in my life – and so many of them tied to the MMA.  What inspirations and mentors – what an incredible place and people to have grown up around and to be involved with today.  Not many can be surrounded by such inspiring people – and such incredible women like Lee. 

This is just one small memory of Lee Belserene.  She served as the MMA’s astronomer and director of the Observatory from September 1978 through September 1991.  She was a Life Member of the MMA.  Emilia Pisano Belserene, Ph.D. passed away in Washington State on December 11, 1012 just one day shy of her 90th birthday.  She leaves a daughter, Rita.

(Lee is on the left in this image and the MMA’s Librarian, Jane Stroup, is in the middle.  The image was taken at Jane’s home.)

JNLF