Hello, lovelies! We hope you enjoyed this episode that focused on tons of girl power and pressing forward despite the patriarchy. Below, you’ll find info on this week’s drink break, Ashley’s show notes, and if you Click Here you can look at Mary Anning’s Common book!

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Mary Anning

She was born May 21 1799 in Lyme Regis, a small seaside town in Dorset England and was the 5th of 10 children to Richard (Large bearded charmer, Dreamer, Cabinet Maker) and Molly Moore (grounded, focused) Anning yet she was the youngest of the 2 children who would survive to the age of 5. 

If fact, Mary was named after her older sister, Mary, who passed away 6 months before Mary was born, at the age of 4 after her clothing caught as she was stoking the fire.

While the industrial revolution was helping larger port town and norther cities thrive the Anning family was struggling to make ends meet among the many other families in Lyme Regis who were doing the same. 

Because it was a smaller town Lyme Regis was not the cleanest of locations. Due to the mess in the main areas the Anning family took a home closer to the ocean and next door to the jail. It was said that the lower the elevation the lower the status as the ocean near the town was known to not behave and would cause the lower areas to flood. 

Luckily for them at the time a doctor in London named, Richard Russell, was blowing up with his research that sea water (external and internal) was a cure all. Syphilis, Depression, Impotence etc. 

So, the higher classes began flocking to the English Seaside. As tourism to the sea grew so did the opportunity for the small town of Lyme Regis. 

The locals decided to take advantage of the new tourist trade and a natural resource. It was foreign to the visitors but free for the taking. 

It was a process called “Fossicking” or “Fossiling” which means digging. 

There were plenty of strange rock formations in the cliffs on Lyme Regis that the locals didn’t think much of as they were surround by them on a daily bases but, the visitors to the areas saw them as souvenirs or trinkets to represent their time by the sea. 

The Anning Family began gathering and selling these natural formations to help supplement the money coming in from Richards cabinet shop. 

Mary was known to be a difficult baby. She didn’t eat much, hardly slept, cried all the time. (Colic)

When Mary was still a babe, just over a year old, they were caught in a bad electrical storm and they took shelter under a tree. 

When suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the tree and killed all 3 women.

Everyone assumed Mary was dead too but, they noticed she was still breathing ever so slightly. 

They rushed her home and revived her in a bath of warm water. 

Suddenly, after this horrific accident Mary was changed. She was happy, ate well gained weight, was playful the family was thrilled that not only did she survive but, she was a new person! 

Growing up Mary did not have a formal education but she did have Sunday school. Which isn’t what we know it as today where you make different colored beaded bracelet and sing “He came from heaven to earth” but the decenter church took this as an opportunity to teach the member of the church to read, write and basic educational skills. 

They believed that the more educated their member were the more they could contribute to the church and the community. 

Richard, being a sales man, taught Mary and her brother Joseph, the art of selling. 

Take the time to clean up the pieces you find, have a story of how you obtained it and where it came from.

Richard being the carpenter also had a leg up on the competition and used his carpentry back ground to create display cases for the families finds.

Ammonite Geode

Some of the items they sold were:

  • Belemnites: “thunderstones”
  • Oyster: the devil’s toenails
  • Ammonite: Snake Stones

They called these items fossils but, at the time, that just meant things that had been dug up. 

The family would spend all of their free time climbing the steep, dangerous cliffs of Lyme Regis and searching for more specimens. As soon as a horrific storm cleared out the family would load up and rush to be the 1st on site the collect the new specimens that were unearthed by mother nature. 

When Mary was 8 Richard left for a nearby village to capitalize on a coach stop and sell some of their items but, he fell off a cliff and was buried under the resulting avalanche of rock and soot. 

But he was he dug himself out and made the way back home. 

The resulting injuries made him unable to continue the rigorous climbs and digs that were necessary to fossick and he passed 3 years later from tuberculosis when Mary was only 11 years old. 

At the time the town was slipping into the worst economic depression it had seen and Molly was pregnant with her 10th child. 

Unfortunately, the baby, a sweet boy, did not make it and after losing Richard and shortly after the new baby, Molly slipped into a dark depression. 

15-year-old Joseph was able to obtain an apprenticeship with a local upholster but, there were no jobs available for an 11-year-old female so Mary took odd jobs running errands, cleaning and helping neighbors.

 The family was able to get parish relief, which provided food (basically a monthly ration of oats and a few vegetables) but rent, clothing/materials, medicine etc. still had to be purchased. 

One night there was a big storm and after it cleared Mary was drawn to go out to the cliffs like they used to do with her father and search for Fossils. 

After her search Mary laid everything out and was deciding what would be worth taking back home to clean and try and sell. When she was approached by a woman who offered to buy a particularly larger ammonite Mary had unearthed.

The woman offered her enough to keep her family fed and safe for a week. 

Mary realized she was much happier being outside working for herself and she could make good money again.

This re sparked the families interested in fossicking and displaying and selling these pieces they found. 

One day Joseph was out about a mile from the house and saw a strange shape in the rocks. He notices teeth sticking out and began to dig it out. 

After he realized it was too big for him to remove by himself, he ran back into town to get a few people to help him. 

They were able to remove the item when ended up being a 4-foot-long skull. They brought it home and began cleaning it and trying to figure out what they would do with it. 

While they were cleaning the skull, Joseph had the realization that if there was a skull surely there would be a body.

Joseph had been Fossicking in his spare time as his job with the upholsterer was bringing in the main money for the family and wouldn’t have time to continue to go out and keep the search going. 

He asked Mary to go out and look for it. 

She kept her search going for almost a year until a horrific storm came through and moved more rock. 

Bit by bit Mary was able to locate pieces of the body. 

Word spread about this find and people began to help Mary remove the larger pieces as well and gather just to watch what would be found that day. Everyone needed to know what would become of “Mary Anning’s Skeleton” 

Once they gathered all the pieces and laid them out the skeleton was over 17 feet long and very strange looking. 

There was animal part, and fish part and dolphin parts…

A frequent customer of theirs who purchased their “Regular” merchandise and owner of the cliff that the skeleton was found in. Named Henry Henly came to the Anning’s and offered them 23 lbs. (6 months’ worth of income) for the skeleton. 

Henry then donated the skeleton to William Bullocks museum of natural curiosities in London. 

The Skeleton became the main display at the museum among the stuffed elephants, strange plants, artifacts form visitors across the sea and 1000s of people flocked to the museum to see what they called “a crocodile in skeletal form”. 

Mary had no idea that her skeleton was setting off alarms both scientifically and religiously. 


No one knew how to categorized the skeleton. Mammal, fish, lizard?

The curator of the museum named it Ichthyosaurs, which means fish-lizard…

Up to this point and fossils were believed to be creatures that still existed and had moved to another location. 

The only history book at this time was the Bible and according to the Bible the world was created only about 600 years before. The world was not old enough to have skeletons from creatures that dated back as far as scientist were claiming this Ichthyosaurs went back. 

The new science of Geology was already causing a stir in the world and now this specimen was causing people to think the world may be much older than we have been taught it is and religious leaders were losing their minds!

Everyone was trying to wrap their head around what had been found and people believed these creatures must still be alive today and living in the open, undiscovered waters. 

Thomas Jefferson is even recorded telling Louis and Clark to keep an eye out for those “Mastodons” during their travels. 

Although the skeleton was causing national, possibly even worldwide, controversy, the part of the skeleton that was always left out was Mary’s as she was given no credit for the discovery and work done to locate and retrieve the skeleton. 

Which at the time didn’t bother Mary. She was full, and financially stable for the 1st time. The massive discovery fueled her love of fossiling and she went out searching for her next big find. 

But she wasn’t alone this time. She was joined by 16-Year-old Henry De la Beche, a rich trouble maker (who had been kicked out of several school) who had a knack for science and Elizabeth Philput who was a middle class 32-year-old collector.

They were able to share their education and resources with Mary including books like a geology book she received from a local wealthy lady and geological articles from locals which she would copy into the notebooks she began keeping. 

Mary wanted to learn about anatomy so she began to gather creature at the beach and would bring them home and dissect them on the kitchen table and diagramed her findings in those same notebooks. 

Mary was known to argue frequently with a man who would come down the coast at least once a month to hunt fossils. This man, Mr. Buckland, would go on to become the 1st professor of Geology at Oxford. In another circumstance these 2 would have never met but, luckily, they were able to work together and learn from each other while hunting fossils. 

While Mary was hunting at home trying to make a living off of her finds friend Henry De la Beche was able to use his wealth and travel the world hunting fossils and meeting other people who shared the same interests. 

Because of his status he invited to join the Geological society of London, which didn’t admit women, where he got to present a paper about the Ichthyosaurs, in which Mary is given NO credit. 

The is so much work that still to this day refers back to this paper. In fact, De la beche and his friends with “Specimens from Lyme Regis” are considered the authorities on the ichthyosaurs.

Mary’s 1st specimen is known as the “prototype” for all ichthyosaurs’. She had found many other specimens but they we all slightly different. De la Beche took it upon himself to write and present a paper on the differences. 

In 1820 When Mary was 21 she was having trouble finding any species to sell and her family had to add used furniture to their sales. 

A regular customer, Thomas Birch, found out about the families’ struggle and was horrified at what it was taking for them to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. 

So he decided to auction the fossils he had purchased from them on their behalf. He wrote to the palaeontologist Gideon Mantell to say that the sale was “for the benefit of the poor woman and her son and daughter at Lyme, who have in truth found almost all the fine things which have been submitted to scientific investigation … I may never again possess what I am about to part with, yet in doing it I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the money will be well applied.”

And gave all the money raised, almost 400lbs (38,339.21lbs or appx $49,000 today), to the Anning family because he wanted to support her research. 

Because of this auction people in the field began to learn the name Mary Anning. 

One quote says “Mary Anning was starting to mean something. This persevering female has, for years, gone daily is search of fossil remains of importance at every tide for many miles into the hanging cliffs at Lyme. To her exertions we owe nearly all the fine species of ichthyosaur of the great collections of the world.” 

Of course, with praise also comes insult and rumors began to fly that the only reason he gave her credit was that they were in some type of relationship. (He was 52 she was 21)

On Dec. 10 1823 at 23 Mary found another large complete animal skeleton. It was 9 feet long and 6 feet wide with a head that was only 5 inches long.  It was described as resembling a giant turtle with a very long neck with a fat body and a tiny head, no legs just fragile “paddles”. 

She sold the skeleton to the Duke of Buckingham for 110- 200lbs. The most she had EVER been paid for a fossil. 

Due to the strange composition of this skeleton people were hesitant on to accept is credibility. 

There were 35 vertebrae in the neck. (Birds 25 a giraffe only has 7 like a human)


Mary’s drawings of the creature made their way to the “Men’s only” Geological society and were the subject of controversy. It was highly debated if this was a real skeleton or not. 

Over time the skeleton was accepted when, yet another fine gentleman, with no mention of Mary, presented a paper on “The Definitive Plesiosaurs”. 

When the Geological society was forced to mention Mary Anning in any way she was referred to as “The proprietor”.

During this time Mary wrote to one of her friends “The world has used me so unkindly I fear that it has made me suspicious of all mankind” 

Her finds were now sought not only by scientist and the geological community but, European nobles and upper class who collected such curiosities.  

Men and Women of higher classes were known to travel to Lyme Regis for the opportunity to go out with Mary on fosking trips. 

After visiting with her in 1824 Lady Harriet Sylvester (the widow of the former recorded of the city of London) referred to her in such a way “The extraordinary thing in the young woman is she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she know as to what tribe they belong. .. it is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favor. This poor ignorant girl should so blessed. For by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with Professors and other clever men on this subject and they acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.” 

At the age of 27, Mary was finally able to purchase (not rent) a better cottage (on higher ground). The family lived in the back portion of the home and used the front as a store front. “ Anning’s Fossil Depot”

One of the neighboring businessmen came in and welcomed Mary saying “she was quite the welcome addition to their town” Mary was still in Lyme Regis.. 

Mary’s friend, Professor Buckland, came to her with a new area of study. 

Bezors stones, swirly grey stones that were found in fossils all over the world.  

They were Dubbed Bezoars after a condition the afflicted goats. The goats would get tightly pack stones of undigested materials in their intestines… 

These stones were known to have healing properties. People would polish them carry them for protection etc.. 


Buckland showed Mary the Bezor he brought with her and Mary was un impressed tell him it was poop isn’t it?

Buckland dubbed these items “Coprolites” Greek for Dung Stones. 

The realized they could reconstitute these “Stones” and learn more about them animals. What they ate, digestion etc.. 

But, the realized they weren’t going to be able to profit from the sale of coprolites.

Luckily, at this time people began covering their homes with stucco. It was decided that the old timey brick was not as luxurious as the new stucco look. 

Quarry men began hauling off pieces of the cliffs to use in the making of the stucco and this opened up new pathways and are for Mary to research.  

At 28 Mary found the complete skeleton of a flying reptile (as Buckland described it) “ A Monster, resembling nothing that has even been seen of or heard of upon earth. Accepting the dragons of romance and heraldry” 

These skeletons had been found in Germany but this was the first to be found in England.

Buckland bought the skeleton, named it Pteodactalus Mcronux (Winged fingers), and a year later Buckland presented this finding at the Geological society. He did say Mary was the one to find it but, he was given all the credit for it. 

At this time other fossils and different dinosaurs where being found all over the world. Natural history museums were popping up all over the place displaying these remarkable discoveries. 

But, all though her work was fought over to be featured in these displays. Mary’s work was so popular she began to be referred to as “The Princess of Paleontology” But, our bad ass Princess had never been inside any museum. 

Mary finally took us a standing invitation from one of our colleagues and traveled to London. Her 1st time ever out of Lyme Regis. 

She described it as loud, smoky and full of energy. “poverty and plenty living side by side”. She was amused by the fancy stores and the cost associated with the luxurious items. 

Shortly after she returned, she had yet another discovery. This new species looked like a cross between a shark and a ray. It was called squaloraja. 

The Squaloraja helped fill in the gaps in the fossil record and was known as a transition fossil as a cross between 2 known species. 

Mary’s own world was getting desperate financially and she began considering other options. 

When her childhood friend Henry Delabeach came back into her life. 

He came bearing a gift. A water color painting he called “Duria Antiquior” a more ancient dorset. 

It was a painting of every one of her finds. Including Coprolites.

It was the 1st example of paleoart. Taking the fossils, putting bodies on them and showing people what the world may have looked like when these giants roamed the earth. 

His plan was to sell prints of this art and give all the profits to the Anning family. 

At 31, Mary befriended Anna Penny a daughter of a sugar barren who had moved to the area to get his son elected as a member of parliament. 

Anna’s mother was against the friendship due to the Anning’s lower place in the hierarchy but, her father said they did not want to upset the Anning’s as they could spread a negative word about her brother and ruin his chance in office.

So, the friendship blossomed. It is through Anna’s journal that you get a good view of who Mary really was. 

Of the entry states “Mary glories in being afraid of no one. Also, in saying everything she pleases. She was very good humored with me but gossips and abused almost everyone in line laughing extremely at the young dandies. Saying they were numbskulls not men.”

Mary also began to explain some of her frustration to Anna including a pretty well-known quote about Mary stating “Men of learning have sucked her brains and have made a great deal by publishing works of which she furnished the contents while she derived none of the advantages.”

It was obvious that this was bothering Mary but, who was she to turn to?

Luckily, she had this close relationship with Anna that she was able to vent some of these frustrations too. 

Meanwhile the Geological society was in a huge uproar about letting women even attend presentations. 

Prof. Buckland was even quoted as saying “everyone agrees that if the meeting was to be of any scientific utility ladies ought not attend. It would turn the thing into a dilatant meeting instead of a serious philosophical meeting of working men.”

At one-point Mary lost all of her life savings in what is referred to as a “bank failure” and Mary, The Princess of Paleontology, was once again struggling to keep a room over her head. 

The men in her life rallied together and got her on a monthly pension. Which sustained her for the rest of her life. 

A swiss theoretical paleontologist came out to fossilize with Mary (not a field guy…)

Mary took him out on many hunts and he was very impressed with her work ethic and knowledge. So much so that he names 2 species of fish after her: Acronis Anninga and Bellanus domus Anninga.

Maybe Mary would had finally pulled herself up enough to get some of the credit she deserved. 

In 1841, when Mary was 42, the term Dinosaur(ia) (Dinos Sauros- Terrible Lizard) was popularized by a man named Richard Owen. 

People where finally starting to come to terms with these discoveries and the concept of evolution and extinction. (This was about 17 years before Darwin’s theory of evolution). 

Also, in 1841 Mary lost her mom at the age of 78. 

Mary really struggled with lose of her mom who the only constant in her life for the last 42 years. 

It did inspire her to start a “commonplace book” which is like the bullet journals of today where you write little things that make you happy, or copy pieces you like, friends can write little notes to you etc.

This is still available to see today (LINK)

She got back on her feet when King Frederick Augustus Saxony himself came personally to the shop to purchase a 6-foot ichthyosaur. 

His people asked for her information for future correspondences.

She wrote:

Mary Anning
I am well known throughout the whole Europe

Not too long after the visit from the King himself Mary fell ill and she was ultimately diagnosed with Breast Cancer. There was nothing that could be done at this time to treat breast cancer except pain management. 

Due to the pain medication she was on she suffered from slurred speech and staggering. 

Rumors began to spread the she had taken to alcohol after her mother passed.

Henry Delabeach and other members of the Geological society came together and created a fund to help pay for her medical bills. 

She suffered from breast cancer for 2 year but ultimately passed at the age of 47 on March 9, 1847.

Afterwards and Today

The skull of the 1st ichthyosaur and her full plesiosaurs are still on display at the London Natural History Museum. 

People still visit her tomb, which she shares with her brother Joseph who passed away just 2 years after she did, and leave her seashells and fossils. 

Henry De la beche was knighted and became the president of Geological society. 2 years after he became president the society paid for a stained-glass window in Mary’s church that was dedicated in her name.
In 1901 women were allowed to attend a Geological society meeting. 

In 1904 the 1st woman was able to present her paper to the society (although she was still not a member)

In 1919 women were finally admitted as member to the Geological Society. 

An uncredited author in All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, wrote of her in 1865 that “[t]he carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”[4] It has often been claimed that her story was the inspiration for the 1908 tongue-twister “She sells seashells on the seashore” by Terry Sullivan.[6][7] In 2010, one hundred and sixty-three years after her death, the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.[8]