21st May 2012
In Praise of: Women Adventurers
Eighty-five years after her infamous solo voyage, Amelia Earhart’s story continues to fascinate. During an attempt to fly around the world in 1937, Earhart mysteriously vanished over the Central Pacific Ocean never to be heard of again.
An aviation fanatic and the first woman to receive the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, Earhart was a woman of great significance in many more ways than you may think.
Despite being declared dead at the age of 41, she established The Ninety-Nines (the first organisation for female pilots), gave women career advice at numerous universities, wrote fantastic books depicting her experiences with aviation, was a member of the National Women’s Party, and was one of the first supporters of the Equal Rights Amendments. What a woman.
Best known for her taste for adventure, you can find out more in East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler. But in the meantime, here are some other woman wonders to excite your adventurous side:
Born 1875, Adams was an explorer, writer and photographer. Travelling around South America for three years, retracing the trail of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, crossing Haiti on horseback, and exploring Bolivia, Adams set the standards for women interested in travel.
Key achievements in her life included being the only female correspondent permitted into the trenches during World War One as part of her role for Harper’s Magazine during the Great War, and established the Society of Women Geographers as a response to not being allowed in as a ‘full member’ to the National Geographic on account of her womanhood.
Acclaimed as the “greatest woman explorer” by the New York Times and stating that she “never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty which a woman…could not surmount”, her life makes for a brilliant read. You can read about her fascinating story in Harriet Chalmers Adams: Explorer and Adventurer by Durlynn Anema.
Writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, archaeologist, spy…it would be easier to list what Bell didn’t do. She was highly influential in imperial policy making due to her broad travellers and intense knowledge of areas such as Syria and Arabia, established the Haematite dynasties in Iraq, and used her skills to create relations with tribal leaders throughout the Middle East.
Don’t let the imperial aspects put you off; Bell was described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection” and her role in government decisions during a time of intense repression for women made her a significant figure in English history. Read all about it in Georgina Howell’s Daughter of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrud Bell.
Nellie Bly was the pen name for Elizabeth Jane Cockran, an American pioneer journalist. Bly was renowned for two particular reasons: a record breaking trip around the world in emulation of Phileas Fogg, and for faking insanity to write an expose to study mental institutions from within.
While her adventure stories are fascinating (and you can read Around the World in Seventy Two Days by Nellie Bly herself), her asylum expose makes for fascinating reading. Hired by the New York World to report upon the neglect and brutality of the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, Bly easily convinced multiple professionals that she was insane with ease.
A harrowing and disturbing read, it depicts a hell on earth with women being subjected to ever increasing brutality. After ten days Bly was released and aided changes set in place by the government to try and make mental health better understood and the patients treated with more dignity. You can read the full story in Bly’s own words with Ten Days in a Mad-House.
Want more adventure? Check out this post from the vaults about Amy Johnston. Or if you know a woman adventurer you reckon we’d love to read all about, let us know who they are in the comments!