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Women in Science: Biology

What is Biology?

Biology is a vast and diverse Natural Science that focuses on the study ("ology") of life ("bio"). This realm of science includes subjects like: 
Anatomy, Astrobiology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Bioethics, Biogeography, Biophysics, Biopsychology, Biotechnology, Botany, Cell biology, Cryobiology, Developmental biology, Ecology, Ethnobiology, Evolutionary biology, Forestry, Genetics, Gerontology, Immunology, Limnology, Marine biology, Microbiology, Molecular biology, Neuroscience, Paleontology, Parasitology, Pharmacology, Physiology, Radiobiology, Soil biology, Biostatistics, Theoretical biology, Toxicology, and Zoology.

To learn more about women in biology, you can browse our catalog, or check out the books listed below! 

Mary Anning

Born: May 21, 1799
Died: March 9, 1847

Mary Anning has been called 'the greatest fossilist the world ever knew,' but she was not credited with her accomplishments til far later, after her death. Growing up in a poor family living near the southern shore of England, she and her family would excavate and sell the fossils they occasionally found near the shoreline cliffs. After her father died in 1810, Mary's mother took up the business end of running the family's fossil collecting, catching the eye of Lt.-Col. Thomas Birch, a professional fossil collector. Sympathizing with the family, he held an auction of his fossil collection to raise money for the Anning family. 

Mary is credited with many first discoveries during her years as a fossil collector, including the first ichthyosaur fossil specimen known to London's scientific community. Her brother discovered the remains a year before, it was Mary that was able to excavate and extract the majority of the remains, probably some time between 1809-1811. Because of her skill and dedication, Mary was able to produce many amazing finds, and provide her family with some means of income. At the time, fossils were not only sought by museums and scientists, but by nobles who were interested in amassing personal collections of "curiosities."

By the mid-1820s, having established herself as an accomplished anatomist, Mary took her mother's place and began running the business. One of her greatest discoveries was the first fossil evidence of the plesiosaur, which was verified by the French anatomist George Cuvier. This discovery legitimized the Anning family and Mary's accomplishments. However, despite this, and the fact that the majority of Mary's finds were housed in museums, Mary and her family were still forgotten by the scientific community. One of the factors was the lack of documentation of her skills, aside from the pieces she was credited with in the personal and public collections. However, modern science has come to recognize her integral part in establishing paleontology, her discoveries aiding in reconstructing the planet's past & history.


If you want to learn more about Mary Anning and her discoveries, check out these books in our collections. 

Jane Goodall

Born: April 3, 1934

Raised & educated in her native England, Jane Goodall developed a deep interest in zoology at an early age, making detailed observations of local birds and animals in her spare time, and quickly became fascinated with Africa & the continent's species. After receiving her higher certificate from Uplands School in 1952, she left school and began a job as a secretary at Oxford University, working at a documentary film company in her spare time, in order to finance a trip to Africa. Several years later, in 1957, she was invited to visit a friend's farm in Kenya, where she came in contact with the Kenyan archaeologist & paleontologist Louis Leakey. Originally only contacting Leaky to discuss animals, Goodall was invited to work for Leakey as his secretary, and later, chimpanzee researcher. 

1958 saw Jane being sent to London in order to study primates with Osman Hill & John Napier, primatologists who specialized in primate behavior & primate anatomy, respectively. Two years later, after the funds were raised, Goodall went to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania for the first time. While there, she spent her time studying the Kasakela chimpanzee community, observing their personalities in an unorthodox way due to the fact she had no collegiate training. Instead of numbering each chimpanzee during her observations, Goodall gave them names, recording each of their unique personalities, which was unheard of at the time. As she continued her research at Gombe Stream, her findings began to challenge two of the scientific community's long-standing beliefs: the first, that only humans could construct and use tools, and the second, that chimpanzees were strictly vegetarians. 

Jane returned back to England in 1962, where she attended Cambridge University to obtain a PhD in Ethology. This made her only the eighth person to be allowed to study for a PhD while not having a preior bachelor's degree. Her thesis, finished in 1965, was titled "Behaviour of the Free Ranging Chimpanzee," and covered her first 5 years studying at the Gombe Reserve. Jane Goodall continued to return and research the chimpanzee community at Gombe Reserve, eventually becoming the first- and only- human to ever be accepted into chimpanzee society. Her discoveries changed how science saw the species completely, her observations having discovered a complicated hierarchical society very similar to humans. 

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) was established in 1977, and supports the Gombe research as well as the global effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats. JGI's programming is well-known for their community-centered conservation efforts in Africa, as well as the global youth program, Roots & Shoots, which was founded in 1991. The Jane Goodall Institute's Center for Primate Studies was created at the University of Minnesota in the mid-90s, and moved to Duke University in 2011. 

Today, Jane Goodall continues her lecture circuit and research in Tanzania. Her contributions to the fields of anthropology and zoology have changed the way an entire species is approached forever. 


If you want to learn more about Jane Goodall and her studies, check out these books in our collections. 

LHL Lectures: Dr. Catherine Kendig

The concepts of homology and analogy continue to be a source of heated discussion within comparative anatomy and comparative genomics. Richard Owen provided the first formal distinction between the similarity of structure or “homology” and the similarity of function or “analogy.” His contribution was pivotal to the development of early 19th-century British biology. Dr. Catherine Kendig, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Missouri Western State University, investigates both the longstanding pre-Darwinian debates within comparative biology and analyzes the recent impact of the new evolutionary developmental synthesis (the approach that incorporates ecology, developmental plasticity, as well as genetics to explain evolutionary change) on the current meaning and use of these concepts.

LHL Lectures: Jerusha Westbury

Jerusha Westbury, Ph.D. candidate in history at New York University and 2013 Resident Fellow at the Linda Hall Library.

The arrival of Columbus in the Western Hemisphere initiated an unprecedented movement of flora and fauna between the eastern and western hemispheres that historians have called the Columbian Exchange. How did people make sense of this exchange in an era when print information was still in its infancy? By looking at the “biography” of one American plant, the prickly pear, Jerusha Westbury, PhD Candidate in history at New York University, will explore some of the problems Europeans faced when trying to make sense of the world they had “discovered.”

Linda Hall Library Lecture Series: Dr. Carole Baldwin

Dr. Carole Baldwin, Research Zoologist, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project is a multidisciplinary Smithsonian project exploring the diversity of tropical deep reefs off the coast of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean. Deep reefs are natural extensions of shallow water reefs, but, because they lie beyond SCUBA diving depths, deep reefs are underexplored ecosystems worldwide.

Video produced by The VideoWorks of Roeland Park, Kansas.

Great Reads

Resources & Organizations

Botanical Society of America - The BSA curates a page highlighting a female scientist involved in the plant sciences.

The Bug Chicks - Created by two entomologists, Kristie Reddick & Jessica Honaker, The Bug Chicks create podcasts, videos, and resources for young entomologists. 

Women In Bio - An organization created by a group of professionals dedicated to encouraging and fostering young women and girls to pursue a career in bio sciences.