Who is Mary Anning?

It is incredible that Mary Anning's name is not more widely known when you consider this remarkable woman's achievements. 

It beggars believe that Anning's name is not more globally known and celebrated. Yet very few historical female scientists are! But you only have to say ‘natural selection’ or ‘The theory of relativity’ and the names of their male counterparts easily pop into our heads. 

Yet, what is so remarkable about Mary Anning, was not only was she an early pioneer of palaeontology, she was a scientist with a huge capacity to understand the fossilised remains she discovered in the Blue Lias cliffs of Lyme Regis. But, because she was from a poor working-class background and struggled for most of her life with poverty she has been forgotten and left out of our history books. Yet without a formal education, her discoveries and ideas about the first ever Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs to be discovered became the catalyst that changed the way we think about the origins of our planet and how life evolved on it. Even now a hundred and seventy one years after her death, books still fail to list her as one of the greatest Palaeontologists of our time. Her name has been eradicated from the annals of history and her achievements unacknowledged and unknown because Anning was an uneducated, working-class woman and, subsequently, an outsider to polite society and the scientific community. Anning lived at a time when women were not allowed to vote, own their own property, or attend university.

The influential Geological Society of London did not allow women to join as members, or even allow them to attend meetings or lectures as guests. Even though it was very clear Mary knew more about the fossilised remains she discovered and the geology of Lyme Regis than any of the wealthy clients she collected for, it was always the male geologists who published the scientific descriptions of the specimens she found, frequently neglecting to even make reference to her name.

Fossils that she discovered which are displayed in museums all around the world, still show the names of the wealthy, educated men that bought them from her. Her work was plagiarised then and still continues to be to this today.  

It must have been soul destroying not to have been given the recognition she deserved.

She was once recorded to have said: ‘The world has used me ill ... these men of learning have sucked my brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which I furnished the contents, while I derived none of the advantages.'

The only scientific writing of hers ever published in her lifetime appeared in the Magazine of Natural History in 1839, a letter that Mary had sent to the magazine's editor challenging one of its claims. 

Toward the end of her life, Anning was awarded a small income from the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of London, which was given in recognition of her contributions to science. After she died of breast cancer aged forty seven in 1847, the president of the Geological Society spoke of her in his annual address, even though it would take another fifty seven years before the first women would be admitted to the organisation in 1904.

In 2010, a hundred and sixty three years after her death, she was finally recognised by the Royal Society as one of the most influential women scientists in British history.

We hope with your support we can start to rectify this unchallenged injustice for Mary Anning and put her name at the forefront of education and into our history books where she rightly belongs. 

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