The year is 1865, and for several years the United States has been torn apart by a cruel civil war. Gabriella Howard is a girl without many options. She has lost her mother and lives with her father in Poughkeepsie, a small town in New York State on the shores of the Hudson. But soon the war will take her father away too and she’ll have to move to an orphanage.
Her luck changes on the day that Maria Mitchel, an old friend of her father’s, appears in the orphanage determined to take charge of her and enlist her help in her new job as a professor. Mrs Michel is a young but renowned astronomer who is to start giving classes in the subject at Vassar College, a monumental university; the first in the United States to offer higher education to women, being built on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie.