When and where was she born?
Mary was born on 21st May 1799 in Lyme Regis, Dorset. Mary died in Lyme Regis from breast cancer in 1847 aged only 48.
- She was struck by lightening when she was 15 months old. The three women who were with her at the time, died, but Mary survived.
- She had 9 brothers and sisters, but only her and her brother Joseph survived childhood.
- Despite no real evidence, there are many claims that the tongue twister “She Sells Sea shells on the sea shore” by the music hall writer Terry Sullivan was about Mary Anning.
What’s important about her scientific work?
Mary was a Palaeontologist and fossil collector. Her discovery of several dinosaur specimens helped the field of palaeontology develop. Her fossils helped prove there had been life on Earth for millions of years.
What do we know about her childhood?
Mary’s father, Richard, was a cabinetmaker and amateur fossil collector. By the time she was five or six, Mary regularly helped him collect fossils which he often displayed and sold from his shop. As well as teaching her how to look for fossils, Richard taught her how to clean them and look after them. When she was 11, he fell from a clifftop whilst collecting fossils and died.
What struggles did she face?
- Like most women of the time, she had very little formal education. She could however read and taught herself geology and anatomy.
- Born very poor, she did earn money but later lost it in a financial scam. Uniquely for a woman, the British Government gave her an annual pension of £25 (which in those times was enough to live on), in recognition of her work in geology.
What did she achieve?
- Mary discovered a huge 5.2-metre-long skeleton of what people initially thought to be a form of Crocodile or even a monster. The mysterious specimen was studied and debated for years. It was eventually named Ichthyosaurus, or ‘fish lizard’ – though we now know it was neither fish nor lizard, but a marine reptile. It lived 201-194 million years ago.
- In 1823 Mary was the first to discover the complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus.
- Her discoveries helped prove life had been on earth for millions of years.