Anna Children was born in Tonbridge, Kent, in 1799. Her mother Hester Anne died in 1800 and Anna became close to her father John George Children who was a scientist. She received an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time and her detailed engravings of shells were used to illustrate her father's translation of Lamarck's Genera of Shells, published in 1823.

She married John Pelly Atkins in 1825 and they moved to Halstead Place, the Atkins' family home in Sevenoaks where she pursued her interests in botany.

Both Anna's husband and father were friends of William Henry Fox Talbot. She learned directly from Talbot about two of his inventions related to photography: the 'photogenic drawing' technique (in which an object is placed on light-sensitised paper which is exposed to the sun to produce an image) and calotypes. Her collection of dried plants was probably used for her 'photography'. Some sources claim that Anna Atkins was the first female photographer.

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