This Women’s History Month, we wanted to look through the history books to discover some of the most influential women in the world of exploration. These 10 women fought against societal pressures, standards and oppression to come out on top, changing the reality for women worldwide and helping rewrite expectations for new generations. These 10 women proved that women could make leaps and bounds in the way of travel during their lifetimes. Throughout Women’s History Month, we invite you to continue to research powerful women of the past and present.
Under the pseudonym Jean Baret, Jeanne Baret was the first woman to ever circumnavigate the globe. Taking off on the French Navy ship the Étoile in 1766, Baret had only intended to further her research on plants. She gained access through her partner and fellow botanist Philibert Commerson. Together, they came up with the plan for her to come onto the ship presenting as male, as women were not permitted on naval ships in France at the time. Through this voyage, she was able to expand her research and (unintentionally) circumnavigate the globe as the first woman to do so. Jeanne Baret proved that women had a place in these spaces and deserved these spots just as much as their male counterparts.
Being an archeologist, mountaineer, political officer and writer, Bell spent much of her life traveling. Falling in love with Iraq upon her first visit, the Middle East became the prime region for her travels. She became very involved in politics in this region, specifically becoming active in the development of Iraq post World War I. She also made huge literary contributions during this time. One of her most notable installments was her reporting on the Armenian genocide, exposing the evils of war and conflict. Bell proved that women had a place in global correspondence, politics and exploration.
Marion Rice Hart
Marion Rice Hart is the epitome of a “renaissance woman.” She excelled at everything she did, having countless hobbies and careers during her life. Becoming the first woman to ever get a degree in chemical engineering from M.I.T, Hart proved that she could achieve anything she wanted to. Later in life she pivoted from her then career as a sculptor and decided to drop everything, buy a boat and travel the seas. After some complications, Hart ended up leading a three-year voyage herself. The crew began in England, passed through the Gulf of Suez and traversed the Red Sea led by a female captain who gained all her knowledge through hands on experience. At 54, she decided to graduate from sailing to aviation, again becoming impressively good at a skill she had no history with. Marion Rice Hart’s legacy is a reminder for women everywhere that anything we set our minds to, we can achieve.
Bessie Coleman is an impressive story of challenging and overcoming adversity. She was both the first woman of African American descent and the first woman of Native American descent to earn their pilot’s license. This becomes even more impressive considering that in the late 1800s/early 1900s, women in the U.S. were not allowed to get their pilot’s license. She overcame this roadblock by learning French in her home of Chicago at the time and moving to France, where she could legally get her license. Coleman became a symbol of success for both the POC community and women alike.
Eileen Collins was the first female flight instructor for the U.S. Air Force and the first woman to both pilot and command an American space shuttle. She paved the way for women in aviation and space travel, proving that women could not only enter this field but succeed. While she was proud to be the first and only woman to achieve these feats at the time, she very much did not want to be the last. Throughout her career, she encouraged other women and young people to focus on their goals and do what they love, irrelevant to who may be trying to get in their way.
Isabella Bird was an Englishwoman who is best known for her travels and related writings. Her most well-known expedition was her over 800-mile trek through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. This prompted the publishing of her book A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains in 1879. This trip earned her an eventual spot in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. However, she spent lots of her life traveling in Europe and Asia, publishing multiple books along the way.
Nellie Bly initially gained popularity when she published her experience going undercover as a patient in a mental health asylum in NYC. She intended to experience the hardships of the patients to expose the poor treatment in the asylum. Her writings were the beginning of investigative journalism, creating a whole new genre in this realm. She became even more popular when she attempted the trip outlined in Around the World in 80 Days. However, she completed her trip in 72 days, temporarily holding the new record for this trip. Bly made waves in the world of journalism and travel, proving that women were capable of greatness in these ways.
Annie Cohen Kopchovsky’s (a/k/a Annie Londonderry)
Annie Cohen Kopchovsky stunned the world with her decision to circumnavigate the globe by bike. She completed her journey in a matter of 15 months, riding a men’s bike and wearing a men’s riding suit. She made her money mainly through advertising. She sold spots on her suit for advertisements, took company endorsements and even changed her last name to Londonderry in the name of the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company! To take her trip, Annie took a break from being a mother and wife, proving that women could achieve huge goals outside of these roles.
Freya Stark was a famous writer of the 20th century, chronicling her travels all around the world. She was born in Britain, but traveled extensively, focusing on Europe and the Middle East. She dedicated herself to becoming fluent in 5 languages: English, Italian, French, Persian and Arabic. Her writings became increasingly popular throughout her career. She had a unique voice and was not afraid to challenge Western involvement in the Middle East. She reported on the mistreatment of the Druse in Syria by the French in the early to mid 1900s, exploiting the damage of Western involvement. Her confidence in her writing solidified her as a shining, strong female author of her time.
Aloha Wanderwell was the first woman to circumnavigate the world by car. Led by Walter Wanderwell, Aloha set off in their Model-T in 1922, when she was just 16 years old. They ended up in 43 countries, passing through 4 continents on their way. They concluded their adventure in 1928, having seen the realities of the post-World War I world. While on the trip, the two captured their life changing experience, documenting it through photos and writing. Click here to view the outline of their trip. Wanderwell proved early in her life that young women could be adventurous and fearless, keeping up with and even surpassing their male counterparts.
ACIS encourages educational travel for all, helping our groups realize the possibilities of the world around them with travel. In the nature of these great women, we seek to explore and educate through experience.