Girls lead the way in STEM celebrations at the Booth Museum

Hundreds of girls packed the Booth Museum of Natural History over the weekend to celebrate the ‘wonder women’ of science.

Monday, 18th February 2019, 9:35 am
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 10:54 am
Ava Boud, with 'Mary Anning' (Penny Balchin)

With pop-ups from the RSPB and Sussex Wildlife Trust: Living Seas, museum visitors were greeted by a real life Mary Anning, an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist.

Grace Brindle, collections assistant at The Booth Museum, said: “It was International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Monday and I wanted to inspire girls not just by historical examples but local people working in Brighton and Hove.

“I wanted to show them you could work as a science teacher, a conservationist, a marine biologist.”

Ava Boud with Mary Anning (Penny Balchin) hitting Mr Booth (Peter Tarshis) with her geologist hammer

In the butterfly hall, girls grouped around tables to hear about Rosalind Franklin, the rightful pioneer of DNA, and take part in an experiment to extract DNA from bananas.

Leading the group, Rebecca Clare, a science teacher from Dorothy Stringer, said: “I didn’t feel it was an option to go into science when I was younger, it wasn’t encouraged – there was a gender inequality.

“I wasn’t often given female role models in science. Even now, GCSE talks about male scientists – that’s changing, we’re starting to talk about Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin.”

The girls were given tiny phials for the DNA and purple or sparkly wool to wear their fruity pendants home around their necks.

Billie Wildmay, 9 with her phial of banana DNA at the Booth Museum

Also on show, Marvellous Mary Merrifield, a local artist and fashion writer on colour theory who became Britain’s leading expert on algae.

Grace said: “The Booth Museum is full of the hidden histories of women. All the dioramas you see were done by women, they were milliners by trade, so worked with fabrics and foliage.

“Women were not allowed to take part in science, it was very male-dominated, women were only ‘allowed’ to look at plants.”

In the discovery gallery, the RSPB was championing its female founder, Etta Lemon.

Madeleine Downie, 15 (Volunteer) helping Hunny Ryman, 8 and Billie Wildmay, 9 to extract DNA from a mashed banana

In 1889, Etta campaigned against Edwardian fashion, and the trend for wearing rare bird feathers as accessories.

Lynn Beun, leader of RSPB Brighton said: “One person can make a difference, It was a woman that set this up and drove it forward.”

Rebecca Lean, visitor services officer for the council, said: “The lovely thing from today was so many little girls running up to the desk saying I’m here for Mary Anning. One wrote a poem inspired by her, and when she read it her face just lit up.”

Ava Boud, 8, jumping outside the Booth Museum