Geological Society of London
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Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man's) world

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posted on 2016-06-21, 12:24 authored by Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek, Richard T. J. Moody

Despite dinosaurs becoming significant ‘icons’ in our culture, few women have made major contributions to the study of fossil vertebrates, especially reptilian taxonomy, by specializing in the dinosaurs and related ‘saurians’. Most who were involved over the first 150 years were not professional palaeontologists but instead wives, daughters and pure (and usually unpaid) amateurs. Here we salute some 40 of them, showing how some kept alive childhood dreams and others fell into the subject involuntarily. As usual nineteenth-century female practitioners are virtually unknown in this area except for one icon, Dorset girl Mary Anning of Lyme Regis, who significantly contributed to the palaeontology. Only in the early twentieth century did women such as Tilly Edinger conduct research with an evolutionary agenda. Before the modern post-1960s era, beginning with Mignon Talbot, few were scientists or conducting research; others such as Mary Ann Woodhouse, Arabella Buckley, the Woodward sisters, Nelda Wright were artists, photographers and/or writers, scientifically illustrating and/or popularizing dinosaurs. Like many other women, they often battled to get from first base to job, appear fleetingly in the literature then disappear; or exist as anonymous presences behind eminent men. In contrast, the modern era offers better prospects for those wanting to pursue dinosaurs and their relatives, even if it means volunteering for a dino dig, watching a live ‘Time team’-type dinosaur dig on TV or entering the Big Virtual Saurian World now on the Internet. This paper considers the problems and highlights the achievements of the oft-forgotten women.