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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The Reluctant Traveler: Elizabeth Bisland overcame her very public loss to Nellie Bly

Elizabeth BislandSometimes we don’t get to choose the journeys we take. Or even have time to pack.

Elizabeth Bisland Whetmore was drafted into service by The Cosmopolitan to compete with Nellie Bly’s 1889 stunt to travel around the world in under 80 days for the New York World. (Bly completed the journey in 72 days; then-Bisland took 76.)

Even a quick skim of Bisland Whetmore’s book about her trip, In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around the World, makes it clear that her heart wasn’t in it. She’d never before traveled abroad, and much of her account is fixated on complaining about her (lack of) luggage, recounting inane logistics of the journey, and commenting on her un-photogenic traveling companions.

I mean, seriously, she opens the book with a detailed description of the morning she found out about the trip, complete with a reference to her bowel movement. I shit you not:Read More »