Tales of men swashbuckling their way around the globe are as famous as they are abundant. Unfortunately, similar stories of inspirational female explorers are fairly unknown. Therefore, to celebrate this International Women’s Day, we want to shine a light on some of these pioneering adventurers.
Five inspirational female explorers
1. Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)
Born in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia was one of the first female pilots. After becoming the first woman to fly to a height over 14,000 feet, she was asked if she wanted to also be the first to fly across the Atlantic. Earhart accepted the offer to be a co-pilot; however, she was not allowed to fly. Undeterred, and now with the fame achieved from the journey, she started to plan her own solo flight from Newfoundland to Paris.
On the morning of May 20, 1932, she set off on her mission in a single-engine plane. After nearly 15 hours flying, she landed short of France in a field in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, this incredible achievement thrust her into the limelight. Later in her life, Earhart continued with many more historic solo flights. Tragically, she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean when trying to become the first female pilot to fly around the world.
2. Freya Stark (1893-1993)
As a British female explorer and writer, Freya Stark ventured to lands few foreigners had ever stepped foot in. During her lifetime she wrote over 25 travel books and an array of articles. Stark’s clear prose and artistic eye, combined with her thirst for adventure, led her to create accurate accounts of previously undocumented areas. In spite of suffering from various illnesses, she travelled extensively during her later years. In 1972 she was honoured as Dame Freya Stark for her contributions to the arts and sciences.
3. Elizabeth Jane Cochran (aka Nellie Bly) (1864-1922)
Hailing from a modest American family in Pennsylvania, this inspirational female explorer entered the world of journalism after replying to a sexist column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper. Upon reading her deft reply, the editor recognised her talent and hired her as a reporter. However, it wasn’t long until she was relegated to the women’s section. This led her to leave and take a position at the New York World.
While working for this newspaper she embarked on her journey to better Jules Verne’s record of travelling around the world in 80 days. In fact, Jules Verne himself told her that if she completed the feat in 79 days, he would congratulate her publicly. After setting off from New York on November 14, 1989, she smashed this record by returning 72 days later.
4. Isabella Bird (1831-1904)
Isabella Bird was one of the greatest female explorers of the 19th century. Her drive to explore and document foreign lands took her far from the grey skies of Yorkshire, England. In spite of suffering from poor health, she scaled mountains, rode thousands of miles on horseback and trekked through jungles. Throughout her life, she travelled to various countries across Asia and America, but she reached her peak of fame after returning from Armenia. Bird spoke out against the atrocities that were being committed against the Armenians in the Middle East; she even met with Prime Minister William Gladstone and brought up the issue in Parliament. Soon after, she was made a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and became the first woman fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
5. Jeanne Baret (1740-1807)
Although having to be disguised as a man, Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. When Jeanne Baret joined the navy in 1766, women were not allowed to sail with the French Navy; therefore, Jeanne hid her breasts with bandages in order to join. The fearless explorer originally enlisted as an assistant to naturalist Philibert Commerçon. For three years, and with three hundred male sailors, she visited numerous countries in the Americas and beyond. It is still unknown if her true identity was ever discovered. However, upon returning safely to France in 1769, she had etched her name into the history books forever.