Episode 124: Mary Anning

Posted 20 April 2019 by
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Mary Anning’s grueling, dangerous, and meticulous toiling enabled many men of science to do their own work and furthered the study of times long past…but she was mostly omitted from the narrative. Thankfully, like the fossils that she discovered, she left enough of an evidence trail to help write her back in.

Mary’s home beach of Lyme Regis. Courtesy Johnnie Shannon, Pixabay

Mary Anning was born in the seaside town of Lyme Regis in Dorset, UK to Richard and Molly Anning on May 21, 1799. At the time of her birth, Lyme Regis was becoming a tourist destination- no less than Jane Austen herself took holiday there…it sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Sure, if you are visiting with loaded wallets, but for the Annings it was hard. Her parents were financially strapped, of a low-class, the “wrong” religion and-gasp!- tradespeople. To make ends meet, Papa Richard started combing the nearby beach and cliffs for a sellable commodity: fossils. There was a big market for these curiosities with tourists. He took his two children, Mary and her older brother Joseph, with him until he died when Mary was 11.

The (rebuilt) Cobb. Visited by Jane Austen and Princess Victoria. Courtesy Claire Johnson via Pixabay

After his death life became even harder, Mary took up the family business of fossil hunting when she, and Joseph, unearthed the full skeleton of an as yet unknown, prehistoric creature. She sold it to a collector who donated it to a museum and while she kept digging she also set about to teach herself everything from anatomy to geology so that she could become an expert on what she was finding.

Mary Anning’s original house, the table would sit in front of the open cellar door. W. Prideaux via wikicommons

For years, Mary chipped and dug and meticulously cleaned her discoveries, selling them to collectors and museums. And, for years, men who would not allow Mary, or any woman for that matter, into their scientific organizations used Mary’s research to write their own papers without giving her credit. Most didn’t see that Mary was quickly becoming an expert on the very things they were writing about–all self-taught. There were a few, very smart men who did understand the contribution that she was making to this developing field of paleontology, who did give her an assist as she needed one. Eventually, others who learned of her extensive knowledge sought her out to learn from her.

Duria Antiquior for Mary by Henry de la Beche

For the majority of her life, Mary lived in poverty. When the finds were plentiful they ate well, but when they weren’t it was dried peas for days. Her list of discoveries is like a who’s who of paleontology: The OG Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus, the world’s second and Great Britain’s first Pterosaur; she made advances in understanding Ammonites and Coprolites (Yes! We got to talk about dinosaur poo!) and even invented an art medium with reconstituted primeval ink sacs.

Her work also caused controversies as the biblical world was faced with a reality from science that the earth was a whole lot older than they believed that the Bible taught.

Toward the end of her life, the British Association for the Advancement of Science did acknowledge her work (although didn’t admit her as a member) with an annual Civil List pension. Mary Anning died from breast cancer on March 9, 1847, at the age of 47.

Mary and Joseph’s headstone (the 19th century Mary and Joseph, not the, you know, Bible ones.) We love the items left in memorial.
Courtesy Greg Miller via Flickr cc license

Time Travel with The History Chicks


Shelley Emling- fills in some blanks


Patricia Pierce, just the facts, M’am.

For kids we liked:

Laurence Anholt and Sheila Moxley


Let’s all go to Dorset, shall we? Here is some information on the Jurassic Coast, where Mary used to live and is now a protected site. Come on! Look how gorgeous it is there, Visit Dorset!

While we’re there, we’ll definitely stop at the Lyme Regis Museum (or maybe we’ll just look at it online because there is a lot of information in there and really, are we going anytime soon? No, we are not.)

Wonder how Mary found all her treasures? This might give you an idea.

We hate to be the ones who bust the myth about the origin of She Sells Sea Shells by the Seashore (well, we kinda like it, truth be told) so we’ll let the dedicated and knowledgeable folks at Folklife Today tell you.

OOoh, very pretty Coprolite jewelry from Utah that will dazzle at your next BBQ when you tell people what it is–or if you just want to see some. You know that you do.

Mary Annings Revenge! A Paleobiologist and an Anthropologist walk into a blog…learning and hilarity ensue.  This is run by two women that, if you like us and our mild to moderate irreverence, you’ll enjoy this site, too. (It was the male vervet monkey, we know you were looking for that.)

A modern paper about Ichtyosaurs that talks about the men of Mary’s time…but not Mary: REDACTED

Mary as painted by her friend, Henry de la Beche.

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Episode 123: Annie Londonderry (Kopchovsky)

Posted 7 April 2019 by
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One of the publicity photos Annie had made on her adventure, 1894.

Her moments in the spotlight may have been limited, but Annie Cohen Kopchovsky lived them hard and bright as a marketer, adventurer, storyteller, and the first woman to bicycle* around the world.

(*or possibly, “around the world with a bicycle”- she played a little loose with the rules at points.)


Episode 122: Ching Shih

Posted 24 March 2019 by
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We have only a general idea of what she looked like, this is as good a guess as any…except she wasn’t much for the fighting, more a behind the scenes pirate-master.

History knows her by many names: Shi Xiang Gu, Shi Yang, Cheng I Sao, Zheng Yi Sao, Ching Shih and no one knows what her original name was! We had to pick one to use so we went with the easiest for our American accents: Ching Shih. (more…)

Episode 121: Audrey Hepburn Part Two

Posted 11 March 2019 by
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Right before Audrey set a new high for superstar status in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

When we left Audrey in Part One she had finished her first Hollywood starring role in Roman Holiday, filmed her second in Sabrina, done a Broadway play, Ondine, with beau hunky Mel Ferrer, and had just won an Academy Award for Roman Holiday AND a Tony Award for Ondine!


Episode 120: Audrey Hepburn, Part One

Posted 24 February 2019 by
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Circa 1956

Audrey Hepburn’s life had more turmoil, sadness, disappointment and some very hard years than her calm demeanor would suggest. She’s thought of as a movie star of the highest order, a style icon and a classic beauty, and she was all of those things, but she was also a wife (a couple times) a mother (also a couple times) and a humanitarian who was compelled to repay kindnesses she had experienced.


Episode 119: Phillis Wheatley

Posted 11 February 2019 by
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Phillis Wheatley was an accomplished poet and the first African American to have a book published. Her work chronicles Revolutionary War era America, focuses on the people she knew and explains the faith that she held dear. The fact that she was ripped from her family, sold into slavery and grew up in an unusual situation gave depth and a unique perspective to her work but, most importantly, makes her someone we all need to know.


Episode 118: Elizabeth Báthory

Posted 27 January 2019 by
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The only original painting of her disappeared, this is a copy of that painting done when she was about 25. Courtesy bathory.com

We step away from our usual stories of remarkable women who overcame obstacles to create admirable good in the world to discuss this remarkable woman who overcame obstacles and created a whole lot of chaos in her world. And not the good kind. Her true story is still being debated, myths and legends swirl through it, but the facts alone are pretty horrifying.

This episode has a really loud NO LITTLE EARS warning. Also if violence, sexual assault, and blood are your triggers, you might want to go listen to Beatrix Potter or Lillian Gilbreth and skip this one. (Wow, podcasters who tell you to skip their show?! We love you, we want you to come back, so yes…or at the very least we can say that we warned you.) (more…)

Episode 117: Harriet Tubman

Posted 6 January 2019 by
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Most grade school kids will tell you that Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad which is a great start–but she was so much more! A nurse, a spy, a military leader, a public speaker, a humanitarian, a wife and mother who did everything in her power to keep her family together…and she did it all with a traumatic brain injury.

She was a hero in every sense of the word.


Episode 116: Barbie

Posted 15 December 2018 by
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We are Barbie Girls (not really) in a Barbie world (sure, why not?); life in plastic, it’s fantastic! So say the paraphrased lyrics of Aqua’s 1997 hit, Barbie Girl, but how did Barbie’s world get created and who is the mastermind behind it? (more…)

Episode 115: Belle Starr and Calamity Jane

Posted 27 November 2018 by
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Everyone has a lesson to teach us, even the hard living, hard drinking, crime breaking ones who bucked convention and survived in a dangerous time and place. These two women of the American wild west fall on a side of the life-choices spectrum that we don’t usually talk about, but it’s time that we did. We thought it was time to tell the stories of two women with fabulous, well-known nicknames that mask who they really were.  (Lady Gaga and Madonna are amazing but come back in 120 years and we’ll talk.) (more…)