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International Women's Day 2021: Women in Paleontology

For International Women’s Day, we decided to focus on women in paleontology and their contributions to the field. Below, you will find short biographies on each woman pictured in our #IWD2021 social media post.

Dr. Emily Dix (1904-1972) earned her doctorate of science from the University of Wales for her research on paleontology and coal seams. Dr. Dix was a renowned paleobotanist, internationally presenting work on both flora and faunal evidence in the Coal Measures of South Wales.

Often referred to as the “Mother of Paleontology” due to her fossil-finding work, Mary Anning (1799-1847) was one of the first women to forge a path on the paleontological scene. The Anning family found fossils in order to sell them for their business, with Mary largely taking over the actual work of finding fossils by 1825. She is credited with a number of discoveries that helped to expand the ideas surrounding prehistoric life, including finding the first two near-complete plesiosaur skeletons.

Annie Montague Alexander (1867-1950) grew her sizable fossil collection from a number of expeditions conducted throughout North America and Africa. She saw a need to preserve her findings and allow others to learn from her specimens, prompting her to found the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. By the time of her death, Annie had donated over 20,000 specimens to UCMP.

Hildegarde Howard (1901-1998) served as the first woman president of the Southern California Academy of Sciences. Over the course of her career, she published around 150 scientific papers, many of them detailing her findings regarding prehistoric birds. Hildegarde was most known for her discoveries in the La Brea Tar Pits, where she did most of her work.

Studying a number of proboscideans, including Russian mastodons, Maria Pavlova (1854-1938) worked on describing and tracing genetic lines of large mammals. She studied collections at Moscow State University, originally working for no pay before being promoted to a professor at the university in 1919. Maria and her husband, paleontologist Alexei Pavlov, worked to establish the Paleontological Museum at Moscow State University, which was then named after them in honor of their research and contributions.

Olga Potapova serves as the Collections Manager for The Mammoth Site. Her work centers around large mammals and how they have adapted, including the woolly and Columbian mammoths. Olga has written and co-authored a number of research papers such as the Yuka mammoth and the Zhenya mammoth from Siberia.

Dr. Sharon Holte-Weaver is The Mammoth Site’s curator. With a focus on vertebrate paleontology, Sharon oversees the Bonebed and all of the fossilized creatures within it. She has assisted on a number of cave paleontological projects as well, notably the Persistence Cave project in Wind Cave National Park that seeks to find evidence of prehistoric vertebrates that are no longer found in the Black Hills.

References:

Burek, C. V. & Cleal, C. J. (2005). The life and work of Emily Dix (1904-1972). In: Bowden, A. J., Burek, C. V. & Wilding, R (ed.) History of palaeobotany: selected essays. Geological Society of London, Special Publication, 241, 181-196.

Creese, Mary R. S. (2015). Ladies in the Laboratory IV: Imperial Russia's Women in Science, 1800-1900. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 99–101. ISBN 978-1-4422-4742-0.

Goodhue, Thomas W. (2002), Curious Bones: Mary Anning and the Birth of Paleontology (Great Scientists), Morgan Reynolds, ISBN 978-1-883846-93-0.

Oliver, Myrna (March 4, 1998). "Hildegarde Howard; Avian Paleontologist, Curator". Los Angeles Times.

Williams, Rianna (1994). "Annie Montague Alexander: Explorer, Naturalist, Philanthropist" (PDF). The Hawaiian Journal of History. 28: 113–126.