When we think of explorers, we naturally come up with names like Ponce Deleon, Megellan or Lewis & Clark. I say “naturally” because that’s what we have been taught. Not once in my American “education” was I told there were female adventurers and explorers. Most of us were probably not even told the whole truth concerning male explorers. I mean come on. Take John Smith for example. He took 500 folks to America and colonized in the name of England. Almost all of them died – 439 if you are keeping track. But, I bet all you really remember about Captain John Smith is his steamy affair with a young Indian girl named Pocahontas. Unfortunately that never happened. He made it up. Yep. The actual John Smith was a full blown liar and kind of a dick. The point here being: While we were being told lies and fairy tales in school we could have been reading about these real life women who changed the world for the better. It bothers me that schools would rather teach lies about men than teach anything about women.
My hope here is that you learn a little bit about people who helped make history and who did things that no one else thought they could, or should do. And maybe it will inspire you to go make some of your own.
- Osa Johnson – Osa Johnson was my inspiration for this list. I am currently reading her book called “I Married Adventure” which she wrote in 1940. The book chronicles her life with her husband Martin. Together they traveled to Borneo, Kenya and the Congo taking pictures and filming everything they saw. The book is a glimpse into what travel used to be like. Imagine doing all of that … on a boat. The book is filled with pictures of Osa feeding wild animals, making friends with the natives and even holding a big ass rifle at the ready in case of stampeeding rhinos. From 1917 to 1937 she and Martin were visiting and filming cannibals in the New Hebrides, orangutans in Borneo, and the rich gamut of wildlife available on safari in Kenya and the Congo. Osa Johnson was one brave woman.
- Amelia Earhart – Everybody knows who Amelia Earhart was. Or… do they? Yes, she was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. Yes she “disappeared” during a flight in 1937 and researchers think they have finally found evidence of her plane on an uninhibited pacific island. But did you know that she used to keep a scrapbook of women who had been successful in male dominated careers? Yep. She knew her road was a rocky one but it didn’t deter her. Amelia took her first flying lesson in 1921. Six months later she had saved up enough money to buy her first plane, a second-hand Kinner Airster two-seater biplane. She nicknamed it Canary because all badasses know that you gotta name your ride. She flew her yellow Canary to new heights. She set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet. Indeed.
- Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner – This young lady is still alive and kicking. She conquers mountains. Her quest was to climb the world’s tallest mountains and she has done it. Let me break that down for you in a different way: She was the first woman to summit all 14 – 8,000 meter (close to 3,000 feet) peaks without supplemental oxygen or porters. If you can’t quite grasp how big those are, then maybe some of the names will help: Mt. Everest, K2, Lhoste. She had many attempts that failed along the way, one even resulting in the death of a climbing partner on K2. She did it carrying her own stuff. She did it when she was 40. I know some 40 year old women who complain about having to carry their own luggage.
- Louise Boyd – Before Val Kilmer was “The Ice Man” in Top Gun, Louise Boyd was ‘The Ice Woman” in real life. But she wasn’t nicknamed that because of her cool disposition. She was called that out of respect. This woman explored the arctic – annually. In 1928 she financed and led an expedition to find lost explorer, and friend Roald Amnudson (who was lost while on expedition looking for another explorer named Umberto Nobile.) Boyd traveled roughly 10,000 miles (16,100 km) across the Arctic Ocean, exploring from Franz Josef Land to the Greenland Sea. She never did find any trace of Amundsen, but she was awarded the Chevalier Cross of the Order of Saint Olav by the Norwegian government. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds super impressive and kind of heavy. Between 1928 and 1955 Louise Boyd explored Greenland and Norway numerous times. She flew over the North Pole in 1955 – she was 68 years old and the he first woman to fly over the North Pole. The flight was 16 hours.
- Kira Salak – I put Kira on the list because she is a writer, an adventurer and a journalist. If you add “singer” to that list then we match up! “I want to travel in a way that lets me have a really intimate experience with local people,” she explained. She is super cool. New York Times called her the “Real life Laura Croft”. She has traveled SOLO to almost every continent, concentrating on remote areas. She prefers to travel lo-tech and solo. She wants to really, really see what life is like in other parts of the world. And how could you not want to know that? How could you not want to see for yourself what else is out there? She was the first documented person to kayak solo 600 miles down West Africa’s Niger River. She was also the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea. And a 700-milencycling trip carried her across Alaska to the Arctic Ocean. She also got kidnapped in Africa at age 20, has a PhD in Literature, and she says that when people doubt her ability it pushes her harder. Yep, bad-ass. I want to meet her and be her protegee. I’m totally serious. If anyone knows her, let her know I am willing to learn if she is willing to be my Yoda.
- Gertrude Bell – English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, archaeologist and spy (!) who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her skill and contacts. Along with T. E. Lawrence, Bell helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as in Iraq. Yeah, I didn’t learn about her in school either. Honestly, I had to learn about Christopher Columbus who, in my opinion didn’t do much but lie, but I never heard of Gertrude Bell. Aside from her many travels and writings, she was a major component in establishing the modern state of Iraq. People didn’t like her much, but they respected the shit out of her. She was one of the few women of the time who had any real power.
Nellie Bly – First off, her nick-name is Pinky. How awesome is that? Her childhood and adolescence pretty much sucked. Her dad was a mean drunk and even meaner when he wasn’t drunk. Her mom divorced and Nellie was sent to school in order to be a teacher. She had to drop out because of money. They moved again, and stayed in Pitsburg for seven years. While she was there Pink found work as a writer, sticking up for women in the work place. She wrote articles about the conditions of young working women, divorce reform and she impersonated a crazy person in order to get first hand knowledge of the brutal beatings and other mistreatment’s in the NY mental institutions. (It was a LOT like last seasons “American Horror Story” plot line. Just sayin’) In the years ahead, she exposed corruption all over the country. Folks were scared of Bly. Her biggest claim to fame though, was her trip “Around the World in 80 days”in 1889. She set out to beat the fictional character from the novel of the same name. Traveling by ship, train and burro, she returned back to New York in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes as a celebrity, cheered by crowds of men as well as women. RESPECT.
- Isabella Bird– So pretend you are a young lady in Victorian times. You are small and riddled with illnesses, not the least of which are spinal tumors. After an operation removes said tumors, Dad shells out some cash and tells you to do whatever you want. You are suffering from depression and insomnia, and the idea of staying in the country as an invalid don’t thrill you. So you do what any badass chick would do. You travel. Isabella Bird took Daddy’s money and set off for North America – alone. She traveled all over north America and back to england. She wrote books about travel and being a woman who does it. She wrote “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” about her time in Colorado and it reads like an HBO series. She meets a charismatic one-eyed outlaw, Jim Nugent, a fan of poetry and casual violence. Together they climbed Long’s Peak and explored the Rockies. Isabella caused some unintended controversy by yeah, you guessed it – wearing pants. She even threatened to sue the Times for accusing her of dressing ‘like a man’. Sing out Sister!
- Annie Smith Peck – What a total badass. She was the first woman to study at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. She earned a degree in Greek and Classical Languages before getting her Masters degree in Greek. That was in 1881. That’s a big deal. After she was finished with school Annie set out to conquer mountains. And she did. She climbed all sorts of mountains, gaining notability when she climbed the Matterhorn in 1895. But she wasn’t famous for being a mountainer perse, she was famous because of what she wore: a long tunic, climbing boots, and a pair of pants. Back then, women were being arrested for wearing trousers in public. Annie’s peculiar climbing costume was talked about in the press, but also prompted public discussion and debate on the question of what women should do and what they can be.
- Jane Goodall – Jane Goodall was brave, fun, smart, adventurous, humble and beautiful. Wiki says she was a “British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. Considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her 45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and has worked extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.” Damn. She might not have been an explorer in the same vein as Jack London, but she was a mountaineer none the less. She explored animals and nature and she was an avid activist for animal rights. She took her passion and turned it into her life.