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Celebrating Women in Science

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths. The annual even is named in honour of Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, and we'd like to take the chance to introduce you to a pioneering female scientist whose work we hold in the Horniman Collections: Anna Atkins.

  • Anna Atkins in 1861, Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    , Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1799, Anna grew up as the daughter of scientist and secretary to The Royal Society. This put her in place to hear about and learn some of the newest scientific developments of the 1800s. She was a keen botanist and scientific illustrator, and when photography began to emerge as a new technique, she was one of the first to put it to good use.

Using an early photographic method known as cyanotyping, Anna began producing photographic plates of British algae, using specimens from her collection. Eventually she completed three volumes, which are now recognised as the first books ever to be published with photographic illustrations.

Anna Atkins is also widely recognised as the first woman ever to create a photograph.

During a recent review of the Horniman's collection of historic books, Librarian Helen uncovered the Horniman's own copy of this important work.

As the volumes were self-published, and the plates each made by hand, each version (and there aren't many left) is slightly different. Ours has a total of 457 plates bound in four books which were originally owned by Frederick Horniman.

We're very proud to have such an important work by a female scientist in our collection. It has inspired Helen and our Aquarium staff to work together to research and discover more about Anna Atkins and her work, which we hope will lead to a future exhibition where we can showcase some of Anna's beautiful images.