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“She sells seashells on the seashore”


Published on 21 May 2013 09:04 : 0 comments : 1412 views

Mary Anning was one of the best known scientific minds of the 19th Century, but her work, which inspired Charles Darwin and a host of his colleagues, went largely unrecognised during her own lifetime. Anning's discoveries fundamentally changed scientific thinking and the Royal Society described her achievements as "paving the way for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution". Her work was respected by some of the finest scientific minds and Charles Dickens wrote of her "deserved reputation". But it was not until 2009 that they Royal Society named her as one of the ten most influential women in the history of science.

On the anniversary of Mary Anning's birth on 21st May 1799, articles from our newspaper collection, reveal her fascinating past, her contributions to science and the links to the famous tongue twister.

Her obituary recalls one of her most exciting discoveries - the ichthyosaurus, a dolphin like reptile, which remains on show at the British Museum. The specimens Anning collected are some of her greatest legacies and countless examples can be found in museums throughout Britain today.

Having spent her life scouring the Jurassic marine fossil beds, Mary opened a shop selling seashells on the coast in Lyme Regis and it's believed she was the inspiration for the well-known tongue-twister "She sells seashells on the seashore", written by Terry Sullivan in 1908.

Head of Genes Reunited, Rhoda Breakell, said: "Mary's achievement during a time when many women were illiterate, is amazing. Her knowledge and expertise was the result of years of hard work and experience. Searching the old newspapers online is a quick and easy way to discover the amazing stories of fascinating women like Mary who have done incredible things and yet are often completely unknown for their ground-breaking work."

Due to gender discrimination, Mary failed to get the official appreciation she deserved. She was never allowed to join the Geological Society of London and rarely received full credit for the host of important discoveries she made, which included the discovery of the gigantic lizard-like fossil plesiosaurus.

Following her father's death in 1810, records of which can be found on Genes Reunited, she spent the rest of her life dedicated to searching for fossils around Dorset's Blue Lias cliffs.

Mary influenced many great scientific minds, including Richard Owen who coined the term ‘dinosaur', and Louis Agassiz who discovered the ice age. Despite being described by the Hull Daily Mail in 1891 as being "humble in life" some of the top academics in the country, including Adam Sedwick, Charles Darwin's teacher, would turn to Mary for advice.