Frida Avern Leakey (1902-1993) may be most recognizable for her last name, but she was a woman who made contributions to the field of paleoanthropology in her own right. In 1921, she entered Newnham College in Cambridge where she studied modern and medieval languages, graduating in 1924. At age 26, she met paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, and they married a year later. She would go on to join him in the field and record their discoveries.
Frida Leakey’s scientific work is often overlooked, but she was a researcher in her own right. Archaeological illustration is a very specific and meticulous skill to master; in 1929, Frida Leakey carefully constructed the illustrations of stone tools that were published in Louis’ volume on the results of the excavation, The Stone Age Cultures of Kenya Colony. After only a few weeks of nursing her infant daughter, Priscilla, she joined her husband at an excavation near Nairobi, in the Olduvai Gorge. One of the localities she discovered, nicknamed FLK (Frida Leakey Karongo), is one of the most productive sites in all of paleoanthropology.
Written by: Natalie Cook, Meagan Sobel, and Tina Treviño Murphy for the course “Gender and Human Evolution”, taught by Caroline VanSickle and published as part of the Women in Paleoanthropology special collection.
Morell, V. (1995). Ancestral passions : the Leakey family and the quest for humankind’s beginnings. New York: Simon & Schuster.
“Frida Leakey.” Times [London, England] 1 Sept. 1993: 17. The Times Digital Archive . Web. 5 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from: http://find.galegroup.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/ttda/infomark.do?action=interpret&source=gale&tabID=T003&prodId=TTDA&userGroupName=wisc_madison&docPage=article&searchType=BasicSearchForm&docId=IF503366160&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0&finalAuth=true.
Scan of “Frida Leakey.” Times [London, England] 1 Sept. 1993: 17. The Times Digital Archive . Web. 5 Apr. 2015.