A historical look at the role of women in travel, from pioneers like Amelia Earhart to modern-day explorers.
In the late 1800s, the following was published in the British Punch magazine:
'A Lady an explorer? A traveller in skirts?
The notion’s just a trifle too seraphic:
Let them stay and mind the babies, or hem our ragged shirts;
But they mustn’t, can’t, and shan’t be geographic.'
And yet as we look to the history books - despite the many obstacles and prejudices faced - women have since played a crucial role in world travel and exploration.
From the iconic Amelia Earhart to modern-day pioneers like Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, these travellers have continuously defied the odds and broken barriers to open up a world of exploration for women around the globe. Travel through time with us as we discover some of the most influential women explorers and let their spirit of adventure inspire you to carve your own path.
Jeanne Baret | 1740-1807
Jeanne Baret, a French botanist, became the first woman to sail around the entire globe. She grew up in a poor household in rural France and possessed a strong knowledge of botany from a young age. This later gained her a position with botanist Philibert Commerson on the first French round-the-world expedition headed by naval commander, Louis de Bougainville in 1766. To defy the ban of women on ships, Baret disguised herself as a man, wrapped her chest in bandages, called herself Jean and set out on a risky journey of botanical discovery. The ruse was up two years later but not before her expertise in botany proved instrumental in the success of the mission, discovering numerous plant specimens, including the popular bougainvillea plant that adorns so many Australian gardens today! Baret’s remarkable feat came full circle upon her eventual return to France in 1769.
Gertrude Bell | 1868-1926
Coined ‘The Queen of the Desert' or ‘The Female Lawrence of Arabia', Gertrude Bell was an archaeologist, writer and adventurer who became a crucial figure in the British Empire for her in-depth knowledge of the Middle East. Intrepid and unafraid to challenge gender roles at the time, Bell embarked on numerous solo expeditions throughout the region that were perilous and physically demanding, often travelling to remote areas where few Westerners had been before. Nevertheless, her appetite for adventure did not quell her passion for luxury and fashion, and - as a woman of means - she was said to travel with fashionable garments and fine jewellery. Who said you can't be both a trailblazing pioneer and a glamour icon at the same time?
Amelia Earhart | 1897-1939
Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and author who broke several records and barriers for women in travel. In 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and went on to set numerous other records for speed and altitude in aviation. Beyond her individual accomplishments, Earhart was a vocal advocate for women's rights and gender equality in the field of aviation and inspired many women to pursue careers in other traditionally male-dominated fields. Today, she is remembered as one of the vanguard for women in travel and a symbol of courage and determination.
Martha Gellhorn | 1908-1998
Martha Gellhorn was an American novelist, travel writer and journalist. She began her career in the 1930s and quickly made a name for herself as one of the first female war correspondents. Her powerful and vivid reporting covered important events of the 20th century including the D-Day landings and the Spanish Civil War. She was also a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, publishing several novels and collections of essays over the course of her career. Gellhorn died in 1998 at the age of 89, but her legacy as a pioneering cross-border journalist continues to inspire new generations of women today.
Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita | Born 1984
Mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita grew up in Lukla, Nepal, with Mount Everest in the distance. She became the first woman in Nepal to become a mountaineering instructor, the first Nepali woman to reach the summit of K2 and actively participated in relief efforts following the country’s 2015 earthquake. Having captured the hearts of young Nepalese women and others around the world, she was voted the 2016 National Geographic’s People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year and is now involved with a foundation that supports women’s education in Nepal. She explains, 'I am not educating girls so they can be mountaineers. Once a woman has an education, she can be whatever she wants. I want to support what women want to become.'