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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Happy Birthday to My Hero: Mary Leakey

Happy Birthday Mary Leakey! 

She's one of my own personal heroes and looking back she and her husband not only propelled my own interest in physical anthropology, she also influenced my decision to home school. I know... I'm a dork. When I was 13 I found the book, "Origins" by Louis Leakey. I was absorbed and couldn't get enough. I then read "Origins Reconsidered" and 'Making of Mankind". I've read both 'Origin' books over and over through the years and after writing this post would probably read it again.

What I took away in my early teen brain was that this woman followed through along side her husband, traveled around the world, and didn't allow childbirth to stop her. The Leakey's raised their children on anthropological digs and followed their own rules regarding the scientific community a number of times. They seemed like scientific rock stars and I wanted to be just like them.

When I first started going to college, I had already determined that I would be an anthropologist someday. I let my own self down when I got pregnant and realized that having a child and planning to complete college by going to Berkley was probably not going to work for me. However, I realized that it didn't have to stop my dreams.

When my son was old enough to go to school, Mary Leakey was one of my own examples of women who could work and tailor an education for a child. She was known to be an artistic and articulate woman. She was not only the wife that followed her husband to Africa, even though it was his own desire to dig in Olduvai Gorge, which is located in now Tanzania. She had previous archaeological experience and it was in the field that she met Louis Leakey and the dynamic-anthropological duo came forth.

Mary brought her own skills to the table and was a large part of Louis' success. After three years of courtship, they were married and then moved to Africa. While in Africa she made her own discoveries of Proconsul africanu and Australopithecus boisei. With her husband, Team Leakey made other discoveries including Homo habilis, nearly a 2 million year old find. Their own discoveries together allowed for advancements in anthropology and archeology. She continued to search for the past even after Louis died and found one of the only signs of habitation of bipedal hominids in Tanzania as well as links to the past by fossils evidence.

There is bound to be more that the woman did, but this is what I remember from my own readings over time. She was an amazing woman before her time and created a niche in the field where women were allowed, but not nearly as well-received. She paved the way for Jane Goodall, who worked with her on her own groundbreaking studies.

For me, I probably would be homeschooling. Maybe. Maybe not? I always referred back to her as my own initial spark for homeschooling. At a young age she was my model of the woman who could do it all. So today, 100 years after her birth I say thank you and Happy Birthday.

If you would like to learn more about the Leakey's the Mary Leakey Foundation continues her legacy.

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