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Women and Geology in the 19th Century

The Geological Society of London was officially founded on 13 November 1807, however it was not until 21 May 1919, that the first female Fellow was elected. As in common with many of the other learned bodies, women were excluded from membership and attendance at the Society’s lectures during the 19th century as they were believed to lack the intellectual rigour to engage in scientific study.

Yet this is not to say that women did not participate in this burgeoning new science. The biostratigrapher and palaeontologist Etheldred Benett (1775-1845), who is recognised as being the first female geologist in Britain, frequently donated specimens to the Society as well as corresponding with the leading geologists of the day. The discoveries made by Mary Anning, the fossil hunter and self taught palaeontologist, were regularly referenced in the papers read at the Society’s scientific meetings. Additionally the wives and daughters of Fellows were also engaged in the science, whether it be through their skills as illustrators or the knowledge gained from collecting their own geological cabinets.

Using a selection of sources from the Library and Archive collections, this exhibition highlights just some of the contributions of women to this most masculine of sciences in the first half of the 19th century.

Click on each thumbnail to find out more.

 Benett thumb   Etheldred Benett (1775-1845), stratigrapher and fossil collector
 Anning thumb   Mary Anning (1799–1847), palaeontologist - link to the expanded 2021 exhibition 'Mary Anning and the Geological Society'
 Murchison thumb   Charlotte Murchison (1788-1869), geologist
 Buckland thumb   Mary Buckland (1797-1857), geological artist and curator