On this International Women's Day we take a look at one of the South West's unsung heroines of modern science:
International Women’s Day 2019 arrives on the back of a very scientifically successful 2018. Specifically, the discovery of the ‘Ledumahadi mafube’; a dinosaur found in South Africa that is believed to be one of the biggest animals ever found on Earth. However, if we look back in Scientific History, a lot of the information we know about geology and dinosaurs comes from Mary Anning, a local Dorset woman who made incredible discoveries in a creationist, Victorian era.
Anning was born in Lyme Regis in 1799, and along with her brother Joseph the two managed to outlive their 8 siblings and survive until adulthood. Local lore tells of a story of Anning being struck by lightening as a baby; the three women around her died, but somehow, she miraculously survived.
Her fossil hunting began when she would go out with her father and brother to the cliffs, they would sell the fossils as ‘curios’ to travellers in order to make some extra money. In 1811 she found her first complete Ichthyosaur, and over the years made more and more discoveries.
For her time, this was very controversial. Britain was still heavily creationist and many people wanted to believe the world was completely unchanged from when it was made. Along with this, a lot of her work was stolen due to her being a woman. She wasn’t allowed to join the Geological Society of London, or even attend as a guest. They finally opened up the organisation to women in 1919, however it was too little too late for Anning who died of breast cancer in 1847 (aged 47).
International Women’s Day is all about sharing and celebrating the amazing things women do. This year’s theme is #balanceforbetter, which is all about promoting equality and creating a more gender balanced world. Anning’s story was full of inequality and injustice because of her gender. Going forward we hope to see even more women in science having their achievements celebrated, because some of the greatest female scientists were left unrecognised in their time.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Article, drawing and photograph by Emma Blandamer