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10 Fascinating Female Explorers

10 Fascinating Female Explorers

A dive into women in history that have made their mark as either explorers, water women, or pirates at times when such was deemed unconventional.

Click on the names for a link to literature on each to read more.


1. Ida Lewis (1842-1911)

An American lighthouse keeper. Known for the multitude of rescues she  By age 15, Lewis had become known as the best swimmer in Newport. She rowed her younger siblings to school every weekday and fetched supplies from town as they were needed. She became very skillful at handling her heavy rowboat. Responding to criticism that it was un-ladylike for women to row boats, Lewis said that "None – but a donkey, would consider it 'un-feminine', to save lives." 


2. Jeanne Baret (1740-1807)

Knows as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.  A lover of plants, she needed up on a ship disguised as a man, to join her then lover (Philibert Commerson), a well known botanist at the time. She discovered several new plant species from which the most popular may be what we call today the bougainvillea.


3. Isabella Bird (1831-1904)

A Brit daughter of a minister, she traveled the US and was marooned in the Rocky Mountains during the winter. During her stay she met outlaw Jim Nugent and lived with him until the weather broke. She went on to explore Canada, Hawaii, China, Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  Later in life she continued to India, Tibet, the Middle East, and Morocco.


4. Harriet Chalmers Adams (1875-1937)

An avid explorer at a time when women were laced into corsets and sipping tea, she wrote about her adventures in South America and the andes Mountains in National Geographic. The New York Times wrote that she "reached twenty frontiers previously unknown to white women." In a later trip she retraced the trail of Christopher Columbus' early discoveries in the Americas, and crossed Haiti on horseback.


5. Annie Edson Taylor (1838-1921)

This quirky "Queen of the Mist" has made our list by doing one thing in particular we find remarkable.  On her sixty-third birthday, Annie decided to do something unique to make some money.  She was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and live to tell the story.


6. Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

After reading Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, she deiced to try and see if she could do it in less. Her mission was successful and she completed the trip in 72 days. During her trip she actually got to meet Jules in France.  She traveled using steamships and railroad systems.


7. Alexandra David-Néel (1868-1969)

Born to an Aristocratic Belgian family, Alexandra traveled extensively through India at a time when outsiders were not welcome.  She is most known for her 1924 visit to Lhasa, Tibet, when it was forbidden to foreigners. She also trekked through Japan and wrote over thirty books


8. Grace Darling (1815-1842)

An English lighthouse keeper's daughter so good on a boat, she once helped save 9 passengers surviving a shipwreck at sea. The conditions were so treacherous the mission had to be done on a four man 21 ft rowing boat instead of a lifeboat. She made headlines all over the world as a woman had never been recognized for saving a man.


9. Anne Bonny (possibly 1697-1782)

An Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the most famous female pirates of all time. Bonny was born in the Kingdom of Ireland around 1700 and moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina when she was about 10 years old. She then married and moved to Nassau in the Bahamas around 1715, a sanctuary for pirates. It was there that she met Calico Jack Rackham and became his pirate partner and lover. She was captured alongside Rackham and Mary Read in October 1720. Bonny and Read were sentenced to death, but their executions were stayed because both of them were pregnant.


10. Mary Read (1685-1721)

Also known as Mark Read, was an English pirate. She and Anne Bonny are two of the most famed female pirates of all time, and among the few women known to have been convicted of piracy during the early 18th century, at the height of the "Golden Age Piracy". Read was born in England in 1685. She began dressing as a boy at a young age, at first by her mother in order to receive inheritance money and then as teenager in order to join the British military. She then married and upon her husband's death moved to the West Indies around 1715. In 1720 she met Jack Rackham and joined his crew, dressing as a man alongside Anne Bonny. Her time as a pirate was successful but short lived, as she, Bonny and Rackham were arrested in November 1720. Although Rackham was swiftly executed, both Read and Bonny claimed to be pregnant and received delayed sentences. Read died of a fever in April 1721, likely due to complications from the pregnancy.


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