In this week’s edition of the Anarchic Archivist, we’re uploading a personal essay by Edith “Jackie” Ronne, a writer and Antarctica explorer who visited the frozen continent 15 times. Her notes during her first expedition, in 1946, significantly influenced the book now credited solely to her husband, Antarctic Conquest: the Story of the Ronne Expedition 1946-1948.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, Ronne jotted down some of her memories, perhaps at the prompting of Washington Post writer Judith Weinraub, who profiled Ronne in 1995 (and topped the story with one of the most sexist and off-putting leads of all time).
Ronne’s jottings appeared online as an essay titled “From Heels to Mukluks.” From what I can find, the essay is only hosted on one site, xpda.com. For the sake of preservation, I’ve copied the essay in its entirety here. I’ve also copied the Washington Post profile below it; despite its horrible, no-good lead, the piece offers some useful and little-reported tidbits about Ronne’s later years.
I hit an arbitrary milestone today: 50 women on my list of American women travelers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
War reporters, scientists, artists, homemakers — it’s a diverse list that challenges some of our stereotypes about what women were up to in decades before and right after they obtained the right to vote. And it’s far from complete. My goal is 100 women, but I can’t get there alone. Know a name I don’t? Tell me all about her.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to start breaking down the comprehensive list into smaller, more thematic ones, like “WWI war correspondents,” or “schoolteachers abroad,” etc. And my posts will start to delve a little deeper into various topics that this list brought to light, such as the “royal road” through Europe that lots of American women followed in the 1880s and common ways in which “lady travel books” were marketed around 1900 (popular ad copy adjectives included “wide-awake traveler” and “breezy narrative”). I could also spend a lot of time on packing advice and media coverage of the controversial clothing choices of women in the 1910s.
Anyway. After a lot of time poking around the Internet in pursuit of historical women, I think we’re finally cookin’ with gas here on WR. Thanks for being an early reader!
We don’t know much about limnologist and Amazon traveler Harriet Bell Merrill, but what we do know is very much at risk of an impending Error 404 error.
Merrill was one of the first limnologists in the country, and possibly the first female limnologist to be hired by an American university (the University of Wisconsin). She was an expert in tiny, algae-eating lake crustaceans known as Cladocera, and she went above and beyond the call of duty by traveling twice to South America to conduct fieldwork (1902-1903 and 1907-1909). Unfortunately, she died as her career was peaking, and for the next 75 years, she was almost entirely forgotten by her field. But in the 1990s, her grandniece brought her out of total obscurity by publishing a biography, and the University of Illinois stepped up to preserve her papers.
Why do we care? Well, Merrill kept remarkably detailed journals and wrote A LOT of letters to her friends, not only about her scientific work, but also vivid descriptions of Brazil and about the cultures she encountered during her fieldwork. She brought back South American items for Wisconsin museums, and some of her travel stories were published in a local newspaper. Her solo journeys were all the more unique because she was in ill-health for the better part of her adult life.