“Have you ever heard of the tongue-twister, ‘She sells seashells by the seashore?”
“I’m told that’s about me,’” fossil hunter and paleontologist Mary Anning told a small audience Thursday.
Of course, Anning, who died 172 years ago, wasn’t actually present at the Coupeville library. Jan Gardner, dressed head-to-toe in period-appropriate attire, was practicing in a dress rehearsal with other American Association of University Women members.
Gardner will portray Anning in the AAUW-Whidbey Island’s Women in History program, which is an annual series of presentations given by the branch’s women who dress up as notable female figures and give 7-to 15-minute long presentations in character.
The program, set during Women’s History Month, is created for the island’s fifth-grade students and will be performed for Coupeville, Oak Harbor and South Whidbey students, coordinator Sarah Mackaman said.
The purpose, she said, is to present information about women the students may never heard of.
Other women who will be portrayed include author Emily Post, aviator Jacqueline Cochran, novel laureate Wangari Muta Maathai and cartographer Marie Tharp, played by Mackaman. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will also be depicted.
Mackaman’s pick, Tharp, was a young woman with an idea — to draw the uncharted ocean bottom. And she had a new idea of how this map should look. She wanted it to look like you were flying over the surface of the ocean but none of the water was there, Mackaman said.
However, she faced obstacles.
“Women in this time weren’t going to be taken seriously,” she said of Tharp.
But Tharp persevered in her work, Mackaman said, and is finally earning the recognition she deserves as someone who drafted the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor and contributed to the theory of continental drift.
Mackaman chose to portray Tharp because she’d came across an article by the New York Times discussing her; she found Tharp intriguing.
She said she also thought the subject would be interesting to both boys and girls in their audience.
The presenters don costumes as accurate as possible in the program that’s been an annual tradition for at least 15 years, Mackaman said.
“It’s fun to interact with the kids,” Shirley Bennett, who plays Madeleine Albright, said.
The branch, which has between 90 and 100 participants, is always looking for new members, Mackaman said.
Women with a degree from an accredited two-year or four-year college, nursing school or similar programs are eligible to join.
The public can see the Women in History presentations at two Oak Harbor locations this month; 1-3 p.m. Tuesday, March 12 at the Whidbey Island Genealogical Searchers meeting at the Heller Road Fire Station in Oak Harbor.