Jeanne Villepreux-Power (1794-1871) has been heralded as the “mother” of aquariophily, and was a pioneering female macalogist (the study of mollusks). Raised in the small village of Juillac, France, she made her way into the world at the age of 18 by walking to Paris where she became an accomplished dressmaker. She achieved initial fame following the celebrated creation of a wedding gown for a Bourbon princess; this led to an advantageous marriage to James Power, a wealthy English merchant who took her to Sicily where they resided for over two decades.
Freed from the constraints of supporting herself, Jeanne was able to cultivate her love of the natural world, particularly the rich ocean life that surrounded her on the island. She immersed herself in the landscape, spending her days collecting and recording everything from shells and fossils to insect wings.
In order to strengthen her scientific observations, Jeanne invented what is now her most famous achievement: the world’s first aquarium. Three different models were developed to aid in her delicate work: the first, a “classic” glass aquarium, was built for study within her home. Two more, both anchored in the nearby sea, were of glass surrounded by protective cages. One housed smaller mollusks, while the second could be dropped to different depths to accommodate larger mollusks.
Among Jeanne’s distinguished discoveries were the unusual mating habits of the Argonauta argo (a species of octopus that was of particular interest to her, and one that fueled over 11 years of her studies), as well as her suggestion that rivers suffering from a loss of aquatic life could be repopulated by introducing tank-raised fish to sustainable levels. As a scientist she was accepted as the only female member of the Catania Accademia, was an affiliate of over a dozen other academies, and was the author of numerous scholarly papers.
Jeanne’s pattern traces her steps from humble, lace-stitching tailor to her hard-won aquatic scholarship, embodied in an elegant, ascending mollusk scallop.
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