This month in the UK we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first women obtaining the vote on 6 February. As there has been so much interest in marine life following the broadcast of Blue planet II, I decided to feature this month women and the blue planet : the contributions of some women to the development of marine zoology. I cannot mention all women marine zoologists so I am highlighting a few women from the past.
The earliest women I want to feature are the Susanna and Anna Lister who were responsible for these anatomical illustrations in a book dated 1696. The book itself was written by their father, Martin Lister. Their mother Hannah had also illustrated some of Martin Lister’s works.
In the eighteenth century it possibly became more socially acceptable for women to have an interest in natural history. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III had interest in botany, geology and zoology and so these subjects became fashionable among aristocratic women whilst less wealthy women helped to popularise natural history by writing and illustrating books.
Mary Roberts (1788-1864) wrote 15 books about natural history, greatly helping to popularise the subject. They were in the form of `letters’ similar in form to Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selbourne. We have two `marine’ books in ZSL Library by Mary Roberts , The conchologist's companion published in 1834 and A popular history of the Mollusca, comprising a familiar account of their classification, instincts, and habits, and of the growth and distinguishing characters of their shells, 1851.
Mary (1817-1893) and Elizabeth Kirby (1823-1873) were forced to find work after the death of the dissenter father and began to write fiction and natural history. In their book The sea and its wonders, 1871, they aimed `to study the great book of Nature, rather than perplex him with a strictly scientific arrangement’ according to their preface. Further information about Roberts and the Kirby sisters can be found in Popularising marine natural history in eighteenth – and nineteenth-century Britain by one of ZSL’s former Visiting Scholars, Professor Geoff Moore. See below for publication details. Geoff Moore pays tribute to the sisters `The Kirbys’ book had a global scope, containing oceanography, chemistry and biology, and was not simply a British seashore guide’.
Jeanne Villepreux-Power (1794-1871) moved to Messina in Sicily following her marriage. She began natural history collecting and became increasingly interested in cephalopods. She made careful observations and carried out experiments to see if the shell of the Argonaut or paper nautilus was actually secreted by the animal, this was against the established view. She corresponded with Sir Richard Owen (he is the subject of another of our blogs http://www.zsl.org/blogs/artefact-of-the-month/celebrating-the-life-of-sir-richard-owen ) who at a meeting of the Zoological Society on 26 February 1839 read out a letter from Villepreux-Power then went on to present evidence agreeing with her and defending her against critics and those with other theories about the shell of the nautilus.
Jeanne Villepreux-Power also worked on octopus and to develop her interest in both octopus and Argonauts she designed and built holding cages effectively creating modern aquaria. She was a Corresponding Member of ZSL.
Another woman making a major contribution to the development of aquaria was Anna Thynne, she was featured in a previous blog http://www.zsl.org/blogs/artefact-of-the-month/the-fish-house-at-zsl-london-zoo-the-first-public-aquarium She successfully kept marine animals in her home. Her notes were published On the increase of Madrepores by Mrs Thynne with notes by P.H. Gosse In The Annals and Magazine of Natural History [Third Series] No. 18, June 1859, pp. 449-461.
Some further reading and publications mentioned in the blog – all these items are in ZSL Library
The role of female cephalopod researchers : past and present by A. Louise Allcock et al, Journal of Natural History, 2015, Vol. 49 (21-24), pp. 1235-1266
The sea and its wonders by Mary and Elizabeth Kirby. London : Nelson, 1871
Conchyliorum bivalvium utriusque aquae exercitatio anatomica tertia, huic accedit dissertatio medicinalis de calculo humano, [by] Martini Lister. Londini : sumptibus authoris impressa, 1696
Popularising marine natural history in eighteenth – and nineteenth-century Britain by P. G. Moore, Archives of natural history, 2014, Vol. 41 (1), pp. 45-62
On the Paper Nautilus (Argonauta Argo), Professor Owen, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London Part VII. 1839. pp. 35-48. DOI: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.1839.tb01425.x
Richard Owen describes and agrees with the research carried out by Jeanne Villepreux-Power
The conchologist's companion by Mary Roberts. London : Whittaker, 1834
A popular history of the Mollusca, comprising a familiar account of their classification, instincts, and habits, and of the growth and distinguishing characters of their shells by Mary Roberts. London : Reeve & Benham, 1851
Spirals in time : the secret life and curious afterlife of seashells, Helen Scales, London : Bloomsbury Sigma, 2015. Pages 194-199 are about Jeanne Villepreux-Power
Theatres of glass : the woman who brought the sea to the city, Rebecca Stott, London : Short Books, 2003. (About Anna Thynne)
Dr Martin Lister (1639-1712) – pioneer conchologist by Peter Topley, Mollusc World, 2016, No. 42, pp. 6-13
The natural history of Selbourne, with its antiquities ; naturalist's calendar, &c., by Gilbert White. A new ed., with notes by Edward Blyth, London : Orr & Smith, 1836 [There are several editions of this book in ZSL Library)
ZSL Library is a wonderful and unique information resource about animals and their conservation – we aim to inform, enthuse and inspire! And of course information is vitally important in conservation.
Our collections can be explored and discovered in a variety of ways –
Select a blog
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Ever wondered what a typical day as a zookeeper looks like, or what it's like to be a videographer at ZSL? Now you can find out!
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
Get updates on our latest ranges, be the first to hear about special offers, and find the perfect gift for animal lovers!
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.