From “Vampire Hunter” to #wanderlust: The evolution of female travel tropes since 1910

When you start to research early 20th-century female travelers, there’s an uncomfortable phrase that appears regularly: “first white woman to go here or there.” I don’t mean to single out Harriet Chalmers Adams for this, but here’s an example from an interview she did with the New York Times in 1912:

I have circumnavigated the South American continent, covering more than 40,000 miles, and penetrated savage wildernesses where no white woman had ever been.

For us to successfully make the case that HCA (and many of her contemporaries) warrants a larger place in our historical canon, she needs to represent something more historically substantive. So does she?Read More »

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Why this blog exists, or, Have you met Mickey?

It started simply enough. In 2013, I was sitting in a lonely office in a lonely wing of the engineering building on the University of Wisconsin campus. At the time, I was a science writer, on the hunt for a historical factoid about materials science to insert into a department newsletter.

I stumbled across the name of the first female graduate of the program: Emily Hahn. She received her degree in 1926, but the college’s website offered nothing more. I mentioned Hahn to my boss, who shrugged and said, “I don’t think she became an engineer.” I didn’t include her in the newsletter.

But I didn’t forget her, and eventually, I started to Google her. And it didn’t take long to realize that “Mickey” Hahn was way more interesting than we gave her credit for.

After a brief stint as a mining engineer, she became a writer and world traveler, ultimately producing more than 50 books. She traveled to the Belgian Congo alone in her mid-20s, and she spent eight years in Japan-occupied China during WWII.

I was … stunned. I’d majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin, and I’d never, not once, heard the name of this prolific alum. How was that possible?Read More »