Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Discovering Dorothea

As I have often said, I am a greedy reader.  I read something every day, and often several somethings.  I read fiction and non-fiction; literature and agreeable trash.  There are few genres I won't read (none spring to mind) but biographies, autobiographies, memoirs and diaries are always on my go-to list.

I am endlessly fascinated by people.  I don't always like them, and I certainly don't always like what they do, but I am fascinated just the same.  Curiosity is one of my defining characteristics.

While the house was in chaos with the platoons of tradies I continued to read.  And this book reminded me of just what I love about biographies.  Education and delight packed into a compact package...



 I grew to love Dorothea, someone about whom I knew less than nothing before I picked up this book.

In 1898, aged nineteen she marched into the Natural History Museum in South Kensington and demanded a job.  Despite the prejudice against women scientists, and no little opposition from her family her association with the museum lasted more than fifty years and only ended with her death in 1951.  Her contribution to the then brand new discipline of Paleontology was huge.  And over the years, this self taught driven woman carved out an international reputation for scientific excellence.

In the early 1900s she explored Cyprus, Crete, Majorca and Menorca.  In remote caves and sea battered cliffs she discovered fossil evidence of extinct creatures including dwarf elephants and hippos, swans too large to fly and giant dormice.  She developed intelligent theories about the changing face of the landscape and of the climate.  As I read I thought that she was certainly one of the very first to investigate climate change and its impact.

And there were other gems to revel in.  Did you know that the myth of Cyclops probably developed from the fossilised remains of an elephant?  That eye in the centre of the forehead was the explanation for the hole in the skull left by the trunk? 

Thirty years later she was excavating in Bethlehem,  in the midst of growing threats of war.  Later, into Africa.  And she continued to work, to learn and to grow. 

How many of us can take an interest and turn it into a passion and career - with very little encouragement and plenty of opposition?  Such a determined woman, with courage and persistence in every thing she undertook.  Very little is known about her private life - which appears to have been sublimated first to her family and then her career.  And I love her successes and hope she knew towards the end of her life just how highly her professionalism and achievements were regarded.

More than fifty years after her death the Natural History Museum employed the actress Jane Cartwright to re-create her as a 'Gallery Character'.  In the company of Charles Darwin and other scientists Dorothea now haunts the galleries of the Museum in school holidays sharing stories of her scientific achievements and hopefully inspiring others to follow their dreams...

I am so very grateful that I picked this book up, and loved reducing my ignorance about her life, her times and her achievements.

81 comments:

  1. Wow, she sounds amazing. I am going to try to find that book.

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    1. Strayer: She was amazing. And did most of the excavations herself, and the identification, and classification and and and...

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  2. Totally fascinating, I am putting this on my reading list. Thank you so much!

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    1. DeniseinVA: I hope you get as much from it as I did.

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  3. what an inspiration, this sounds like an excellent book

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    1. Linda Starr: Is is excellent. And I will look for other biographies written by the author too.

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  4. She was one determined woman. She really got to travel and explore. Swans too big to fly? I had no idea.

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    1. Alex J. Cavanaugh: It was the miniature hippos and heffalumps I wanted to see...

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  5. This will go onto my 'must check the library catalogue list' as well.

    A while ago I read a book by Tracy Chevalier 'Remarkable Creatures' (http://www.tchevalier.com/remarkablecreatures/background/historicalfigures/index.html)
    supposedly inspired by another English fossil hunter Elizabeth Philpot - fiction yes but I think you might enjoy it.
    Cathy

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    1. craniethie: I am always open to more bookie temptation. Thank you.

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  6. A hard time for women as they as everything they said was dismissed as nothing , so her discoveries ment more as it would have been hard to get people to listen.
    Merle.............

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    1. Merlesworld: Hard to get people to listen, hard to get people to believe, hard to get funding and her role should have been at home supporting her family. Hiss and spit.

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  7. Sounds like another one for the 'must read' pile.

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    1. Delores: I wish my must reads could be confined to a pile...

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  8. What a remarkable woman. It's nice to become aware of such courage and determination.

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    1. Myrna R.: It is lovely to learn about such gutsy women. Courageous, determined - and successful.

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  9. I muist read this book.I've red of her, in articles here nd there, but this sounds good.
    And, while I'm here, have you read about "The Flower Hunter" Ellis Rowan? I think you'd enjoy that one, too.

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    1. dinahmow: It was good. I am so glad I found it. And The Flower Hunter sounds right up my (very wide) street as well.

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  10. Wowee, she seems to be a hard woman, to be an amazing instinctive scientist. I love those sort of people, and a woman.

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    1. Bob Bushell: I am in awe of those people. And particularly the women. Instinctive scientist is such an interesting term - and I wonder what she could have been/found if she had education other than what she gave herself.

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  11. Dear Sue, this is definitely a book I"m going to try to get hold of. I'll check first to see if it's in the Independence library, which is quite a good library because it's part of a larger system.

    I'm not surprised to read that you are have a broad and deep sense of curiosity. I've noticed that in both your postings and in your comments on my blog. Isn't it wonderful to want always to learn more? It makes growing older such a joy. And your kind of curiosity always reminds me of a favorite line of poetry that I first met in college: "To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower/To hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour." William Blake wrote this over two centuries ago and it comes to my mind so often as I hold the blaze of a fall leaf and look into the heart of a tulip. Peace.

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    1. Dee: My curiosity was something I was criticised for as a child - and it is still with me, and I am so very grateful for it. And I love the William Blake quote - thank you. It sums it up so well.

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  12. It's amazing the role some women did have in history, when it was believed they had none. I think it took a special kind of determination though, for those to whom that was true.

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    1. mail4rosey: It undoubtedly took a LOT of determination. Which paid off in her case, but for so many others their dreams withered and died.

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  13. What a fascinating woman, I love the Cyclops myth part too. There's a great deal to be said for biographies. I'm glad you enjoyed it and when my capabilities fully return - it's on the list.

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    1. All Consuming: I hope (so much) that your abilities do return completely. And I am glad that someone else was tickled by Cyclops. It was an aha moment for me.

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  14. That sounds like a very interesting, intriguing read, EC. I don't think I've heard of Dorothea Bates before. What an amazing woman she must have been...and more particularly in those times.

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    1. Lee: It was fascinating. And yes, the times were against her.

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  15. This sounds like a good read and like something I would chose to read too. I know very little about your country so names and places are not familiar to me. I need to learn more.

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    1. Bookie: Dorothea was an English woman so much of her background was new to me. New, and fascinating.

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  16. I wish I could read as fast as I used to, I have so many books stacked up here and the written list of books to find is getting very long. I've added this one to it, archaeology and paleontology are a couple of my favourite subjects. Never mind that I know next to nothing about either.

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    1. River: I am appalled at how many things I am ignorant about. But it does make learning something every day easy.

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  17. I went to my library website and searched on both the title and her name. Nothing comes up. Now I'll go over to Amazon and see if I might be able to get the book on my Kindle. It sounds fascinating! :-)

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    1. There's a website called AbeBooks that has it for $18.31 in paperback, but I don't know how much they'll charge for delivery.

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  18. I only found her book in hardback on Amazon for $33. I'll keep looking. :-)

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    1. DJan: That is way tooooo expensive. Books are dearer over here, and I paid less than a third of that price (and got it in paperback).

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  19. Biographies are something I read far too seldom. I suppose my desire for escapism wins out more often than not. Perhaps it's time to rebalance those scales.

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    1. Jeff Hargett: About the only reading crime I can accept is not reading. It really doesn't matter what people read - so long as they do. And we all need/want different things from our reading.

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  20. I hadn't heard of Dorothea before, EC. Thanks for inspiring me by describing her. I'm still thinking about her demanding the job at only 19 years old. Thank goodness the museum was wise enough to see that she was special.

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    1. Rawkinrobyn: She didn't get a job that day - but got her foot in the door at least. Which in itself was amazing for a young woman without a University education.

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  21. I'm just like you, I love a good book that I can learn about something/someone. Thanks for the book rec!

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    1. Tammy Theriault: I read for so many reasons. Education, comfort, escape, entertainment. And all of my needs are met.

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  22. this must have been a fascinating read about this wonderful determined woman.

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    1. Margaret Adamson: Oh it was. A winner. About a winner.

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  23. Oh yes, definitely going on my must-read list! Whipping through books is my favourite way of whiling away the hours.

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    1. Jacquelineand...: An addiction worth savouring. And we do.

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  24. Dorothea is like Florence Nightingale who go against the rules of what women should do, how they should be. I love reading, hearing about those women. Have you noticed how little is told about them in the media? Media is controlled by men.

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    1. Guyana-Gyal: It isn't only in the media their stories are buried. When the author of this biography started her research she was appalled at how little information there was. And I am so grateful that she, like Dorothea, educated herself - and me.

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    2. I've bookmarked this post because I'm so very interested!!

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    3. Guyana-Gyal: How lovely that I have been able to excite your interest in this trail blazer. Thank you.

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  25. What an inspirational woman! Reading about her reminds me of Dymphna Cusack - have you read A Window in the Dark?

    And YAY for your wonderful new bathroom, it looks perfect.

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    1. Kim: Dymphna Cusack is another star. Of the home grown variety.
      And the bathroom is a treat. Safe, comfortable (luxurious) bliss.

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  26. Sounds like an interesting book...and one that will enrich a reader!

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    1. Stephanie Faris: So many books enrich us. Which is wonderful.

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  27. It sounds like a good read. Inspiring woman.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. A Cuban in London: If, like you I lived in London, I think I would have to track down some of her work. From the other side of the world I just marvell at it.

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  28. I love stories with female heroes:)

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  29. Sounds like a fascinating book indeed, EC. Have a great weekend!

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    1. Optimistic Existentialist: It was wonderful. Education and a joy. And a great weekend to you too.

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  30. Okay, I am doing a little catch up here. Sometimes my weeks get so busy that I may squeeze in time to post, but don't have time to read and enjoy other peoples posts. That is frustrating to me because I learn wonderful things from others like new good books to read. I think my secret wish is to be a paleontologist ... of course at this point it will have to be in another life,, but the idea of finding an artifact, holding it in my hands and reading all the stories it has to tell ... I would love it. I am definately interested in reading "Discovering Dorthea" ... I will have to see if I can get it on Amazon. Meanwhile I am so jealous of your wonderful new bathroom. I know it is hard to get the reall effect when shooting through a door or in close quarters, but I can see that I would love your shower too. And the rest is beautifull and tastefully done. Good for you and I know I speak for your cats ... Thank God it is finished :) Finally if I had a park I could go to that is so full of wonderful life, I would be there every day ... going home would be the exception. I do so love your black swans. I suppose they are the same as our white swans, except, we don't have black swans here so they are such a treat to observe. Thank you asl alway EC ... I just love coming to see you. It is never disappointing and always enlightening ... Hope his Skinny Highness faired as well as you through all of this. Be well, stay well and keep reading ... your wonderful brain is a plethora of knowledge and we are blessed that you are so willing and accomplished at sharing it.

    Andrea @ From The Sol

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    1. Andrea: You always leave the nicest comments. Thank you so much.
      I do love that park and the swans. Who are aggressive bullies - and enchanting.
      I too would have loved to have been able to study paleontology, and archaeology, and sociology. Next time round perhaps...
      And that shower is still a treat.

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  31. Popping in top say a quick hello.

    Dammit, how long is my book list going to get? This sounds fascinating, and I was also reminded of Chevalier's book, too (that someone mentioned in an earlier comment). She was a woman before her time by the sounds of it.

    Have you come across any of Dervla Murphy's books? She's Irish (in case you couldn't tell - ha, ha) and started her writing career by travelling from Ireland to India with a bicycle (she had to carry it some of the way, through a severe winter in Eastern Europe) in 1962 and writing the story in diary form, and I don't think she has stopped since.

    I have been working my way through a series written by a newly-discovered author called Elly Griffiths. The first book in the series is called "The Crossing Places" and it is rather important to read her so-far 5 books in sequence as the characters develop. The main character, Ruth, is approaching 40, wears loose clothing because she's overweight, her hair is NOT perfect, her nails are broken and chipped (she's an archaeologist) and she lives with 2 cats on her own. In other words, a REAL person. Despite the fact they're written in the present tense, I've been ploughing through them as quickly as I can - very real people with very real, sloppy lives. I think you might like them.

    I'm about to start Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" and if it's anything like his other books it's going to be a tough, harrowing ride.

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    1. Marie: Welcome back. I hope your world has calmed down and your health is much, much better.
      I am so grateful (and sometimes resentful) of all the bookie temptation put in my way.
      It seems the Chevalier book is a 'must read', and I really like the sound of your Elly Griffiths' series. Real people are always a big hook for me.
      I do know Dervla Murphy - and have some of her books. I am not certain I would like her in person - but thoroughly enjoy many of her books.
      And Richard Flanagan's latest work sounds more than worthwhile. Some day...

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  32. I think curiosity is a blessing. We might have gotten in trouble a time or two for "asking too many questions" when we were young, but that endless thirst for knowledge is what keeps our minds young now. I also think people who can look at all the wonders of the world, and all the things as yet unknown and NOT be curious... THEY are the curiosity.

    That book sounds terrific. Dorothea was a woman ahead of her time. For a woman to be that self-confident and assertive back then... when women were essentially considered second-class citizens... is amazing. I'd say she was well-blessed with the curiosity "itch", and very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to travel to so many places to "scratch" it.

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    1. Susan: She made her opportunities. Sometimes against incredible opposition. When her only sister became engaged it was made clear to her that her role needed to change - to become the daughter who stayed at home to care for her parents. And for a while (five years of so) she succumbed. They must have been hellish years for her.

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  33. I've always loved reading about pioneer women and I have lived on one of the Balearic Islands ... sounds like this is a must read for me! Thanks for bringing it to my attention!!

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    1. Susan F.: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  34. I never heard of her, but she seems to have been a very interesting woman. I love to see how women who took an interest in science succeeded!

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    1. Carola Bartz: Until I picked up this book I had never heard of her either. A gap in my knowledge I am very, very glad to have filled.

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  35. This sounds like a book I would enjoy very much, so thank you for writing about it. I have gotten very choosy about what books I bring in the house, because we have so many and my better half doesn't like to give any up. This is one that meets my requirements to get its toe in the door :)

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    1. jenny_o: I hope you do like it. She was an incredible woman - well ahead of her time. And I do wonder how much she could have achieved if she had lived a little later, had a university education and more support.
      We too have lots and lots and lots of books. I can, reluctantly, surrender some of them. The smaller portion can't.

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  36. What a great book review. I hadn't known of her before. She sounds like an extremely interesting person. Thanks for sharing this--my time (and concentration) for reading is non-existent these days. I love to vicariously enjoy your reads!

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    1. Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen): I knew nothing about her either. And now know a smidgeon...

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  37. This book review was so good- it made me want to read this book. It sounds fascinating and I am curious about Dorothera! I love to learn new things- thanks for sharing. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. DMS: I love learning new things too - particularly about inspiring women. And this book qualified on both counts.

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  38. That sounds fascinating! I can't imagine what a sexist arena that must have been.

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    1. Riot Kitty: Beyond sexist. And some of the worst started at home. The requirement that a daughter should give up everything to stay at home and look after her parents horrified me.

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