Museum curator celebrates female scientists from Plymouth

Jan with specimens worked on by Marie Lebour

A member of staff from the City Museum and Art Gallery has co-written a chapter about four of Plymouth’s historic marine biologists for a brand new e-book.

Put together by authors from around the world, ‘More Passion for Science’ highlights the achievements of some of science’s most unsung women – from the mathematical mind of Florence Nightingale to pioneering female astronauts who used x-rays to peer into deep space.

Jan Freedman, curator of natural history at the Museum and Art Gallery, collaborated with local scientist Anne-Flore Laloë on a chapter that explores the lives of four women who worked at the Marine Biological Association.

  • Talented artist Elsie Sexton became a world expert on a strange group of shrimp-like creatures called amphipods.
  • Marine conservationist Marjorie Wilson saved three rare plant species from extinction: the Plymouth Pear, the Plymouth Strawberry and the Plymouth Thistle.
  • Marine biologists Mary Parke and Marie Lebour both spent decades studying and making discoveries about the hidden microscopic world of sea water. Specimens worked on by Lebour now form part of the City Museum and Art Gallery’s marine collections.

Specimens worked on by Marie LebourDeputy Council Leader Peter Smith said: “When people are asked to name a scientist the chances are they will mention the likes of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Richard Dawkins. But female scientists have made incredible discoveries over the years and sharing their stories will hopefully inspire other women in the future. We were delighted to be able to contribute a story about Plymouth to the e-book. These four women had a passion for the natural world and this publication lets them shine.”

Jan said: “The Marine Biological Association was and still is a membership organisation that welcomes both men and women. It was a few decades before the first paid female scientists arrived, but when they did they were welcomed and respected. It’s been a great opportunity to help share a story about four inspiring women who dedicated their lives to the sea.”