Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know

Before Marie Curie, these women dedicated their lives to science and made significant advances

While Marie Curie dominates the conversation, there have been many other brilliant women who have pursued science over the years. (Harold Clements / Daily Express / Hulton Archive / Getty Images; The Granger Collection, New York (4); Bernard Gotfryd / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

Mary Anning (1799 – 1847)

Mary Anning
(Natural History Museum, London / Wikimedia Commons)

In 1811, Mary Anning’s brother spotted what he thought was a crocodile skeleton in a seaside cliff near the family’s Lyme Regis, England, home. He charged his 11-year-old sister with its recovery, and she eventually dug out a skull and 60 vertebrae, selling them to a private collector for £23. This find was no croc, though, and was eventually named Ichthyosaurus, the “fish-lizard.” Thus began Anning’s long career as a fossil hunter. In addition to ichthyosaurs, she found long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl and hundreds, possibly thousands, of other fossils that helped scientists to draw a picture of the marine world 200 million to 140 million years ago during the Jurassic. She had little formal education and so taught herself anatomy, geology, paleontology and scientific illustration. Scientists of the time traveled from as far away as New York City to Lyme Regis to consult and hunt for fossils with Anning.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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