Darwin’s Dolls

Back in Spring of 2010 I wrote this little article for the Shropshire Entomology Newsletter about two female entomologists, characters in a favourite childhood book of mine.  Imagine my delight to find out that I could legitimately add them to my list of real-life heroes!  I’m re-posting the text of the article here, with extra images!

Entomology for Girls

I recently rediscovered a favourite childhood book, “The Adventures of Madeline and Louisa”, which in my memory was a book about two girls who went out hunting insects, with many charming illustrations exaggerating the danger of their adventures and the size of their quarry.

Little did I know that, rather than simply characters in a 1980 children’s book, the Pasley sisters were actually entomologists and the book itself was a selection of pages from their ‘album’ which they wrote and illustrated when the girls were between the ages of 12 and 16.

The youngest daughters of Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, Bart., K.C.B., Madalene and Louisa grew up at ‘The Craig’ in Plymouth where their adventures take place.  At only age 14, Madalene wrote ‘A Selection of British Butterflies and Moths’.

The American Philosophical Society says that ‘Her comments on the phenology, ethology, ecology, & appearance of butterflies are concise & knowledgeable & suggest that Pasley was a true enthusiast’.

I was also delighted and surprised to note that they use the word ‘entomologise’ in the book, which I had assumed was modern pig-English, really! Google Books Ngram Viewer says differently however, & shows the word first appearing in published literature in the late 1850s, and showing a surge of use in literature from 1880 – 1900!

Madeline (1848-1939) and Louisa (1847-1929) continued ‘entomologising’ throughout their lives (and illustrating!), much in the tradition of their contemporary accomplished mycologist, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), all three of whom were unsung scientific heroines of the Victorian era, and certainly childhood heroes of mine.         – M Bowers, 2010

So there you have it – one last thing, though, is that if you think that science is a man’s game, think again – Madeline, Louisa and Beatrix were just three women who paved the way for girls to follow a career in science – for a glimpse into the world of women in science, and the best of science’s top female tweets, you can follow my Darwin’s Dolls Twitter List.

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