Women in Marine Biology: Jeanne Villepreux-Power (1794-1871)

Jeanne Villepreux-Power was a 19th-Century Marine Biology from France who was known for inventing the first Aquarium.

Jeanne, much to our surprise and chagrin, began her adult life by moving to Paris at the age of 18 to design wedding dresses. After marrying an English merchant and moving to Messina, Sicily, Jeanne began to pursue other interests that involved a lot less tulle and a lot more salt water... Not only did Jeanne desire to observe and experiment on terrestial and aquatic animals on the island, but she also became an advocate for sustainable aquaculture practices on the island. (Looks like she was already thinking 200 years ahead!)

Jeanne was credited with invented the first Aquarium, (3 different types, actually..but who's counting?), thus setting the stage for future scientists to study marine ecosystems in a controlled environment. The first aquaria was her own for use in a study room, and remaining two were for use in the field - one anchored at a certain depth in the ocean to observe large molluscs, and the other surrounded by a cage for studying small molluscs. Unfortunately, many of Jeanne's records and drawings were lost in a shipwreck when she and her husband moved to England. :-(

Despite the disastrous ending to Jeanne's time in Sicily, she could now credit herself with the invention of the first aquarium, two published guides to Sicily's aquatic ecosystems, and a solution for overfished bodies of water. Now THAT'S impressive!

Further Reading

A 19th Century Shipwreck Might Be Why This Famous Female Naturalist Faded to Obscurity. 2015. Marissa Fessenden. Smithsonian Magazine.

Nicole Corder

Nicole Corder is an intern for the Femmes of STEM.

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