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There Go the Girls!: Great Female Travelers and Pioneers 22

Think of history's iconic travelers, explorers and pioneers. Who comes to mind? Christopher Columbus? Marco Polo? Captain James Cook? Tales of legendary journeys of exploration are unfairly male-dominated but the fact is that intrepid female explorers more than shared this spirit of adventure as they blazed the trail into some of the most isolated, most inhospitable and dangerous corners of the globe and their stories are equally as spellbinding, if not more so than those of their male counterparts. Girl Power is as old as time itself and some of the groundbreaking feats of women explorers include becoming some of the very first outsiders to experience the mystical unknown of nineteenth century Japan and Tibet, the first to chart some of the Amazon's darkest depths and ignoring bone-chilling warnings of cannibalism as they explored West Africa and the South Pacific. Many more of these fearless females broke the mould of culture and society to answer adventure's call, and now we continue in their footsteps. Add your own images and come with us to continue the incredible story of history's great female travelers!

Annie Smith Peck

Jul 12 1878

As mountaineers go, Annie Smith Peck is one of American history's most fearless and intrepid. Having conquered mountains and summits across Europe, in Italy, Switzerland and Greece, as well as in her native United States by the age of forty, Peck became a fully-fledged and professional mountaineer and began touring the US lecturing in travel and mountain climbing. In the 1890s and early 1900s, she turned her attention to the famous mountains of Central and South America and in 1897 she successfully scaled the active Mexican volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Citlaltépetl.

Huascarán, Yungay, Peru

Sep 1 2008

Nestled in the western Andes, Peru's Huascarán is the fourth highest peak in the western hemisphere and the mountain is named after one of the last rulers of the Inca empire, Huáscar. Visible today from the city of Huaraz, Huáscaran caught the attention of Annie Smith Peck in 1908 and later that year she became the first woman ever to successfully climb the gigantic, 6770-foot mountain. Peck later recalled her famous summit of Huascarán, as well her other efforts to scale summits across Peru and Bolivia, in her bestselling book 'The Search for the Apex of America: High Mountain Climbing in Peru and Bolivia'. Image Credit: Uwebart (Wikimedia Commons)

Marie Octavie Coudreau

May 14 1900

Since the European 'discovery' of the New World and the dawn of the Age of Discovery, South America's colossal and iconic Amazon rainforest has inspired and attracted explorers and pioneers from around the globe. Two of the most famous of these adventurers were married French couple Henri and Marie Octavie Coudreau and in 1899, the Brazilian government hired the two explorers and geographers to map previously uncharted areas of the Amazon in what are now Brazil's Pará and Amazonas states.

Rio Curuá, Brazil

Jan 12 2009

The Coudreaus' explorations took them into some of the darkest, most dense and mysterious corners of the Amazon rainforest, including tributaries and runoffs of the Amazon River such as the Rio Curuá and the Rio Trombetas. The 1899 expedition ended abruptly for the Coudreaus as Henri died from malaria but rather than let the tragedy dissuade her, Octavie continued meticulously charting and mapping unknown areas of the Amazon and in the ensuing years, enduring jungle disease and wild animal attacks, she contributed hugely to the geographical knowledge of tropical South America. Image Credit: Guto.1992 (Wikimedia Commons)

Aimée Crocker

Oct 14 2014

Sacramento-born Aimée Crocker is unquestionably one of the most colourful and eccentric figures in modern American history. After an ignominious and messy split with her husband, Richard Porter Ashe, Crocker embarked on a mammoth and incredibly eventful tour of the Far East and the Pacific in 1882. She made her first stop in Hawaii, where she was given a tropical island and the title of Palaikalani, or 'Bliss of Heaven', by then King Kalākaua. Later adventures in Asia would see Crocker escape headhunters in Borneo as well as attempts on her life in Hong Kong and Shanghai before adopting a snake in India, in an episode which see her becomes known as the 'Python Princess'. Image Credit: WelcomeLibrary (Wikimedia Commons)

Aimée Crocker

Sep 8 2011

On her return to New York, Crocker proclaimed herself the 'Mayoress of Chinatown' and purchased a lavish and Oriental-themed mansion on Long Island Sound which showcased the colossal collection of Buddha statues, pearls and other artefacts she brought back from the Far East. After relocating to Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century, Crocker moved into a mansion in the French capital's extravagant and affluent Passy district which would be become known as 'The House of Fantasy'.

Mary Kingsley

Feb 1 1896

In the nineteenth century, African society, culture and people were viewed predominantly in European eyes as inferior. English ethnographer, writer and explorer Mary Kingsley was a pioneer not only because of her travels throughout West Africa but also for the way in which she challenged and helped change the racist and imperialist European idea of the African continent.

Fang People, Gabon, West Africa

Sep 24 2008

Kingsley arrived in Africa in 1893, first exploring what are now the nations of Sierra Leone and Angola. She returned in 1894, with the specific intention to study and live among native West African tribes and attempt to establish a more objective view on the people which Europeans had condemned as 'cannibals' whose traditional voodoo belief system was an ungodly form of dark magic. Most famously, Kinsgley spent an extended period of time living among the Fang People, of what is now Gabon, and the story goes that she once managed to fight off a crocodile which attacked her canoe on the Ogooué River using only a paddle.

Alexandrine Tinné

May 27 2015

Alexandrine Tinné was a Dutch explorer in Africa and the first European woman to attempt to cross the Sahara. She often went by the first name Alexine.

Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan

Nov 13 2012

Along with explorers Theodor von Heuglin and Hermann Steudner, Tinne planned to travel to the Bahr-el-Ghazal, a tributary of the White Nile, in order to reach the countries of the 'Niam-Niam'(Azande). The party also intended to explore the uncharted region beyond the river and to ascertain how far westward the Nile basin extended; also to investigate the reports of a vast lake in Central Africa eastwards of those already known, most likely the lake-like expanses of the middle Congo

Freya Stark

Jan 1 1945

One of the most famous twentieth century explorers of the Middle East, Freya Stark spent over a decade in the 1930s and 1940s travelling throughout the region. During her travels she became one of the first ever non-Arabs to explore the remote deserts of southern Arabia and she made meticulous and now world famous records of her her time in the Middle East, including three books - 'The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramaut', 'Seen In The Hadhramaut' in 1938 and and 1940's 'A Winter in Arabia' - which were awarded the prestigious 'Founders Gold Medal' by the National Geographical Society.

Castle of the Assassins, Alamut, Qazvin, Iran

Jan 1 1945

In northwestern Iran, the mysterious 'Valleys of the Assassins' has historically been touted as one of the most dangerous areas of the Middle East and is one of the main territories of 'The Assassins', an Islamic secret order also known as Hashshashin and which dates as far back as The Crusades. In 1931, Freya Stark became the first Westerner to ever visit this volatile and notorious valley and she recorded her journey in a 1931 travelogue titled 'The Valleys of the Assassins'.

Siachen Glacier, India

May 1 1913

Alongside her husband, William Hunter Workman, Fanny spent a total of fourteen years exploring the Himalayas and in 1900 the couple co-authored 'In the Ice World of the Himalayas', the first of three books on the region. On a 1911 expedition to the Himalayan region of Karakoram, on the triple border of India, Pakistan and China, she planned and lead an exploration of the Siachen Glacier, the second largest on earth outside the polar regions, and the couple spent over two months precisely mapping and charting the glacier. For her travels and exploration, Workman received no fewer than ten medals of honour from European and American geographical societies.

Fanny Bullock Workman

Apr 26 1913

No list of iconic female explorers and pioneers would be complete without legendary American travel writer, geographer and mountaineer Fanny Bullock Workman. Workman initially rose to international fame at the end of the nineteenth century with her bicycle tours of Europe and later, further cycling throughout India, Myanmar, Vietanam, Sri Lanka and Java. Workman is most famous, however, for her seemingly countless Himalayan expeditions exploring the iconic mountains and their glaciers.

Alexandra David-Néel

Dec 14 2010

A famed opera singer and composer until the age of 36, French-Belgian explorer and spiritualist Alexandra David-Néel remains one of the most iconic female travellers ever to have lived. In the early 1900s, Néel began what would become a lifelong passion and interest in Buddhism and in 1912 she arrived in Sikkim, India's most northerly state which borders China, Bhutan and Tibet, to begin touring Buddhist monasteries in the region to widen her understanding of the faith. She even met the thirteenth Dalai Lama in the West Bengali hill station of Kalimpong. Image Credit: Preus Museum (Flickr)

Lhasa, Tibet

Sep 3 2005

In July 1916, Néel left northern India and set off for Tibet, arriving at Tashilhunpo Monastery, near the town of Shigatse in the far south of the country. When she arrived, she continued touring Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and was also welcomed and blessed by the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second most important figure. At the time, the Tibetan capital and Forbidden City of Lhasa was strictly off-limits to outsiders, but a a chance meeting with a Japanese Buddhist monk named Ekai Kawaguchi, who had managed to stay in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa for a year and a half disguised as a Chinese monk. Kawaguchi's story inspired Néel to hatch a plan and in 1924 she managed to visit Lhasa and remain in the city for six months completely incognito, dressed as a Tibetan beggar.

Isabella Bird

Jan 14 1889

English explorer, writer and naturalist Isabella bird is unquestionably one of the nineteenth century's most famous and influential female adventurers. Amazingly, Bird suffered from chronic spinal problems, insomnia and headaches throughout her life but never let her afflictions stand in the way of her thirst and passion for global travel. Among her most impressive feats include successfully scaling Hawaii's volcanic peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in 1872 and an 800-mile horse ride across the Rocky Mountains in 1873.

Isshinden Temple Gate, Tsu, Mie Prefecture, Japan


Isabella Bird undertook her most famous expedition in 1880 with an extensive tour of the Far East, exploring Japan, China, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam and she became first woman ever to be be admitted as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in November 1892. In 1897, Bird returned to the Far East to sail up both China's Yangtze River and Korea's Han River and during her time in Asia, she wrote eight travelogues recounting her adventures. 1880's 'Unbeaten Tracks in Japan', one of Bird's most acclaimed books, featured immensely detailed drawings of Japanese Shinto temple architecture which were some of the first the West had ever seen, including the Torii gate of Isshinden-ji in modern day Mie Prefecture.

Osa Johnson

Apr 9 1935

Between 1917 and 1952, American explorer and documentary film maker Osa Johnson was one half of a bona fide celebrity couple who glamourously toured remote areas of the world and presented their adventures and discoveries to the world on the silver screen. With her husband Martin, Osa Johnson travelled the world, taking in Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, piecing together film footage and photographs and making them into documentaries on their home and giving many early twentieth century Americans their first look at some of the most remote corners of the globe.

Vao, Malampa, Vunuatu

Dec 31 1919

A nine-month tour of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in 1917 turned out to be arguably Osa Johnson's most famous adventure. The island of Malakula, in the south of the Vanuatu archipelago, is the traditional home of a group of Melanesian natives known as the Namba and the story goes that the Johnsons' visit almost came to an abrupt and grisly end. The Namba chief refused the pair permission to leave and only the lucky intervention of a passing Royal Navy ship in the area saved the Johnsons from possibly being cannibalised.

Jean Batten

Jul 16 2012

One of the most famous Kiwis of the twentieth century, New Zealand aviator and pilot Jean Batten first captured international attention in May 1934 when she broke the record for a solo flight between the UK and Australia, completing the mammoth journey in 14 days and 22 hours and beating the previous record by an impressive four days. In 1935, Batten set a further world record when she flew solo between the UK and Brazil on a flight which earned her the 'Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul', or 'Order of the Southern Cross', Brazil's most prestigious civilian award.

Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Apr 26 1927

Batten's most famous accomplishment came in 1936 when she became the first person ever to fly between the UK and New Zealand. In her native Rotorua, she was honoured by a local Māori chief who gave her the title Hine-o-te-Rangi, or 'Daughter of the Sky', after her record-setting journey. Today, she is immortalised in statue form at Rotorua Airport alongside a carving of the Percival Gull aeroplane in which she completed her iconic flight.

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