4 Inspiring Female Adventure Travelers from the 20th Century
These four famous women disregarded rules from the 19th and early 20th century saying adventure travel was for men—and their explorations changed history.
There’s something extremely inspiring about female adventure
travelers of days gone by. It’s hard enough today to travel
solo as a woman,
let alone 100 years ago! These four famous women used travel to
overcome stereotypes and social mores—and in the process they
changed not only their own lives, but the course of history and the
world, with their daring explorations throughout the 19th and early
20th centuries. Let’s take a closer look at some of history’s most
notable female adventurers.
Nelly Bly (1864-1922)
In 1890, Bly became the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe. Today planning an around the world trip is still a big deal, but it’s a lot easier than it was in the 19th and 20th centuries. Bly set out to beat the fictional Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days”—one of the greatest adventure travel books—and she did it, pulling the job off in just 72 days. When she told her newspaper editor about her plans for the trip, he said that a man would have to do it, since a woman would require heavy trunks and piles of luggage. Bly proved him wrong, traveling with just a small bag and the clothes on her back—she was traveling light well before minimalist travel was a thing and we’re pretty sure she would have organized her tiny bags with packing cubes to maximize space. Bly was also a pioneer in the field of investigative reporting, and her travel stories brought about changes in areas of society that desperately needed attention, such as asylums, sweatshops, orphanages, and prisons.
Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)
An archaeologist, author, and linguist, Bell climbed to the top of her professions just like this female adventurer ascended to the top of mountains. She was a passionate learner, teaching herself Persian and Arabic during her travels through what was then Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. She was also an avid and vocal supporter of Iraqi freedom, and is credited with drawing the boundaries of the modern state of Iraq in the 1920s. Evidence of Bell’s passion and dedication as an archaeologist—which is how she spent her final years in Iraq—lives on today through the highly acclaimed Baghdad Archaeological Museum (now called the National Museum of Iraq), which she established just before her death. Throughout the 20th century this inspiring female explorer charted new routes up mountains, defied societal norms for women, and was among the finest mountaineers of her time. Her passion and curiosity for the world make her a female adventurer worth remembering.
Louise Boyd (1887-1972)
Boyd is remembered for her extensive 20th century explorations of both Greenland and the Arctic, and her writings about those journeys. She became the first woman to fly over the North Pole in 1955. In Greenland, Boyd photographed, surveyed, and collected hundreds of botanical specimens, which were later catalogued by the American Geographical Society. Ever the adventurer, she also set out across the Polish countryside as a delegate to the International Geographical Congress in Warsaw. She traveled by car, boat, train, and on foot, and took hundreds of travel photos that were later published by the American Geographical Society in 1937. During World War II, Boyd worked on secret assignments for the U.S. Department of the Army and she was awarded a Department of Army Certificate of Appreciation for her service in 1949. We truly tip our hats to this inspiring female explorer for all she contributed to the world in the 20th century.
Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935)
Peck was a noted mountaineer and scholar who set several mountain climbing records in the 20th century. As an early feminist, she scandalized society by climbing in trousers rather than cumbersome skirts. As a suffragette, she planted a flag championing votes for women atop Mount Coropuna in Peru. As the first climber of the north peak of Peru’s Huascarán, it was later named Cumbre Aña Peck in her honor. Not only was she one of the first female initiates of the Royal Geographical Society, but she was a founder of the American Alpine Club. Peck was still climbing mountains in her early 80s, proving that nothing can keep a female adventurer down!
Your turn, adventurers. Before you shoulder your own backpack and explore the world, share with us what explorers throughout history have inspired your travels today? How have your own travels helped you change and grow ?
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By Shannon O'Donnell on April 2, 2020
Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been a digital nomad since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed speaker and is passionate about promoting sustainable and responsible tourism .
Photo by Geena Ruggeri follow her adventures on Instagram