A Woman to Know: Jeanne Villepreux-Power

She rolled up her sleeves and became a scientist. — Helen Scales

(image via Wikimedia)


As a self-taught marine biologist living in 19th century Sicily, Jeanne had to settle for the specimens she could get: dried husks, salt-crusted skeletons and empty shells. She yearned for a way to study ocean life in a more natural environment — so she invented the first-ever home aquarium in 1832.

Her aquariums — she ultimately designed three kinds — were filled with all sorts of creatures. Mollusks and fish and even a family of paper nautilus, the animal that had originally spurred her fascination in sea creatures. By observing the nautilus in her at-home aquarium, Jeanne wrote some of the first scholarship detailing its under-the-ocean behavior (i.e., it is more than just its beautiful shell).

But we know very little about Jeanne's life after 1843. Because in 1843, a ship carrying her papers, books and other research sunk to the bottom of the ocean, leaving future marine biologists with little evidence of her hard work. She died in 1871, having never published another article again.

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