“Some of the greatest minds in the history of the world have been dismissed because they were covered with curls and bows.” — Anonymous
To mark International Day of the Girl Child, the United Nations offers this fact: “The world’s 1.1 billion girls are a source of power, energy, and creativity.”
So they are, and so they have been throughout history, even though struggling to fulfill one’s potential as a girl child was often met with derision or lack of opportunity, as it is for girls in many parts of the world today.
If you were a scientifically minded girl living in the 18th and 19th centuries, you could look forward to putting your light under a bushel, unless you were made of sterner stuff. You needed dedication to follow your passion no matter where it might lead, perseverance, a will to work hard and an independent spirit to walk a singular path. Most often, you were the only girl in your field of study. Despite these obstructions, however, many women made significant contributions to science.
Take, for example, Maria Mitchell. She was born in 1818 and became the first professional female astronomer in the United States. In 1847, Maria tracked the orbit of a new comet using the family’s small telescope! That comet is now called “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” In her lifetime, Maria’s passion for the heavens would result in observations of sunspots, other comets, nebulae, solar eclipses, and the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.
Ynes Mexia, born in 1870, had a passion for plants. She dreamed of finding a new plant species and did so many times over! She is considered to be one of the most important botanists of the 20th century.
And then there’s Mary Anning — born into poverty in 1799. From early childhood, Mary was passionate about the strange curiosities found in the cliffs of her Dorset, England, home. Mary had little formal education and relied, it seemed, on an intuitive knowledge of the cliff faces. She was a paleontologist before the word existed. Even the word “dinosaur” did not yet exist!
Mary’s first major excavation, an Ichthyosaurus (Latin for “fish lizard”) shook the scientific world to its moldy foundations. At this time, scientists didn’t believe that species could become extinct. Mary’s find proved otherwise. Before this, scientists thought the world was only six thousand years old. Mary’s ichthyosaur proved it was two hundred million years old! And Mary didn’t stop with one fossil find. She continued to discover significant fossils throughout her life. Her story is inspirational.
So, tell your budding girl scientist that there is no limit to her universe! As Coco Chanel said, “A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
by Monica Kulling
Mary Anning, considered the world’s greatest fossilist, discovered her first big find at the age of twelve. This novel is an imaginative re-creation of her childhood in early nineteenth-century Lyme Regis.
Mary Anning may have been uneducated, poor and a woman, but her life’s work of fossil hunting led her to make many discoveries that influenced our understanding of prehistoric creatures and the age of the Earth. In 2010, Mary was named among the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Charles Darwin even cited Mary’s fossilized creatures as evidence in his book On the Origin of Species.
In this triumphant novel about scientific discovery, Monica Kulling brings Mary Anning and her world to life for young readers.