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Marie Stopes and the Fern Ledges of Saint John, New Brunswick

H. J. Falcon-Lang
H. J. Falcon-Lang
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK (e-mail:
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R. F. Miller
R. F. Miller
Natural Sciences Department, New Brunswick Museum, 277 Douglas Avenue, Saint John, New Brunswick, E2K 1E5, Canada
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January 01, 2007


Marie Stopes (1880–1958) is best known for her controversial writings on sex, marriage and birth control, but during her 20s and 30s she carved out a successful career as a palaeobotanist. Here, we discuss her work on the Fern Ledges of Saint John, New Brunswick. The age of these fossil beds had long been shrouded in controversy. The eminent 19th-century geologist, Sir William Dawson, had argued that they were Devonian and represented remains of the oldest known terrestrial ecosystem. In 1910, Stopes was commissioned by the Geological Survey of Canada to reassess the taxonomy and age of this fossil flora. We provide the first detailed chronology of this 18-month long research project and highlight some of the most important aspects of the study. Her outstanding monograph, characterized by precise observation and interpretation, cut through decades of muddled thinking to prove that the beds were, in fact, Pennsylvanian. In addition, her palaeoecological inferences were well ahead of their time and also had biostratigraphical implications. Although she continued to intermittently publish geological works until the mid-1930s, the Fern Ledges project, which coincided with her disastrous first marriage to Reginald Gates, marked the beginning of the end of her palaeobotanical career and the start of her more extraordinary and enduring contribution to society.

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Figures & Tables


Geological Society, London, Special Publications

The Role of Women in the History of Geology

C. V. Burek
C. V. Burek
University of Chester, UK
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B. Higgs
B. Higgs
University College Cork, Ireland
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Geological Society of London
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2007




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