Monday, January 10, 2011
She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore
My parents dragged me to the dinosaur exhibit at our local science museum over the weekend.
It was cute and informative, but the most interesting aspect was the mention of one woman in particular: Mary Anning.
I was so mesmerized, I decided to share with you a little history lesson on a very fabulous woman. She wasn't a fashionista. She wasn't royalty. She wasn't even that attractive. She was just a woman who was years before her time.
Mary Anning was the "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew."
Before your eyes glaze over and you skim over this post, humor me and read on.
Born into wretched poverty in 1799, Mary didn't stand a chance. Her life was already mapped out to be insignificant, until a discovery as a child changed her life forever.
When she was 12, Mary and her brother were climbing the rocky cliffs by their home, Lyme Regis, in England, when they came across the complete skeleton of an Icthyosaur. Mary pieced the entire dinosaur skeleton together by herself and became known as one of the world's most famous palaeontologists.
Throughout her teens, Mary made many more discoveries along the coast of her home. She would go on to find the first two Plesiosaur skeletons ever found, the first Pterosaur skeleton, and very important fish fossils.
Most of her fossils were sold to institutions and private collectors, and although it brought in funds, it wasn't the astronomical number you would think. Back then, dinosaur fossils were still relatively new. You couldn't find anyone who was willing to fork over millions of dollars for a T-Rex skeleton. Despite her world-wide fame, her family was still desperately poor and relied on charity to get by.
Also, her accomplishments were sullied by the male British elite. As a working class woman, Mary was not allowed to be a member of the Geological Society of London. Although she knew more about fossils than any other scientist at the time, her findings were always published by male geologists who often did not give her credit. She grew resentful because of this treatment.
Her unhappiness could be found in a letter: "The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone."
It wasn't until she was diagnosed with breast cancer that she finally started getting the recognition she deserved.
She received an annuity from the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1838. The Geological Society of London collected a stipend for her and she was named the first Honorary Member of the new Dorset County Museum, one year before her death from breast cancer at age 47. Her obituary was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society--an organization that would not admit women until 1904.
Her legend lives on not only in scientific journals and history books, but also in our culture.
The tongue twister, "She sells sea shells by the seashore," was written about Mary.
Not bad for a penniless girl who liked to play in the dirt.
Let that be your inspiration.