Marie Stopes was unquestionably one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century. The long-term significance of her work in pioneering the defence of women’s rights, and in urging the general acceptance of contraception, far exceeds that of her contributions to palaeobotany. Nonetheless, between 1903 and 1935 she published a series of palaeobotanical papers that placed her among the leading half-dozen British palaeobotanists of her time. Her book Ancient Plants (1910; Blackie, London) was a successful pioneering attempt to popularize the subject for a non-botanical audience. Her contributions on the earliest angiosperms, on the formation of coal-balls, and, above all, on the nature and terminology of coal macerals have had a lasting impact on palaeobotanical thought.
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Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.