Visible Women

Why an 11-year-old girl is fighting for a statue of forgotten palaeontologist Mary Anning

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Moya Crockett
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Mary Anning

When Evie learned there was no statue of her hero Mary Anning in Lyme Regis, she decided to do something about it. 

Born into a poor family in Dorset in 1799, Mary Anning went on to become one of the greatest fossil collectors who ever lived. A pioneer in the field of palaeontology, she discovered several significant fossils – as well as the near-complete and partial skeletons of several dinosaurs – in the early 19th century, a time when most Brits still did not believe in evolution or extinction and had no concept of a prehistoric era.

But like so many women in STEM, Anning’s significant contributions to the field of palaeontology went mostly overlooked for generations. As a woman, she was not allowed to join the Geological Society of London, and while many male scientists reported on the dinosaur remains that she discovered, few gave her any credit for finding them.

Now, an 11-year-old girl from Anning’s hometown has spearheaded a successful campaign to erect a statue paying tribute to the palaeontologist. A keen fossil hunter from Lyme Regis, Evie looks up to Anning as her hero. When she asked her mother to take her to the statue of Anning, she was shocked to learn that there wasn’t one.

Evie subsequently started the Mary Anning Rocks campaign and wrote a letter to her local council, who agreed that Anning deserved a statue in Lyme Regis. Sculptor Hazel Reeves, who created the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst erected in Manchester last year, has now been commissioned to make the monument to Anning. 

“We need justice for Mary,” Reeves told the BBC. “She really needs to be recognised as an amazing woman.

“People are beginning to understand that there were many women over history whose names haven’t been in the history books – and Mary is one of those.

“I think it’s outrageous, really, that Mary doesn’t have a statue in Lyme Regis, in the area where she worked all her life! I think we need to right that wrong.”

Evie said she thought Anning “would be very happy and pleased” if she knew she was finally getting a statue in her honour.

“Seeing this project comes to life makes me very happy because I didn’t know that an 11-year-old could do something like this.”

Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning in Ammonite 

Up-to-date statistics on the number of statues honouring women in the UK are relatively hard to come by. However, analysis by the Invisible Women campaign group estimates that public statues of men outnumber women by 16 to one, a ratio that would be significantly worse if you discounted statues of Queen Victoria. The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association says around one in five statues in the UK are of women, but many of these are nameless or mythical.

However, several new statues of influential British women have been commissioned and unveiled over the last year. A monument to leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett took up residency in Westminster’s Parliament Square in April 2018. A month later, it was revealed that artist Maggi Hambling is working on a sculptural tribute to “foremother of feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft. Plans are also underway for the UK’s first full statue of Virginia Woolf, and a memorial to suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was unveiled in Northumberland in September.

And the Mary Anning Rocks campaign isn’t the only thing shining a spotlight on the life of the Victorian palaeontologist. A feature film about Anning’s life starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite, recently began filming in Lyme Regis – although there has been some controversy about the addition to the plot of a lesbian love story. Although Anning never married, details about her sexuality remain unknown.

In response to the criticism, the film’s director Francis Lee said: “After seeing queer history be routinely ‘straightened’ throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?”

Images: Wikimedia Commons / Getty Images


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.