Mary was the daughter of cabinet maker Richard Anning of Lyme Regis. The Annings supplemented their income by selling curiosities as fossils were referred to.
In 1811, after her father’s death (in 1810), Mary's brother Joseph found the first Ichthyosaur skeleton which was to be the catalyst for her career. Later she was befriended by the famous geologist Henry De la Beche, however, it is largely through her relationships with Elizabeth Philpot and Anna Maria Pinney that we know of her life.
There are fossils directly attributed to Mary in the Natural History Museum. Many other specimens found by Mary are probably in collections such as the Enniskillen Collection also held at the Museum.