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 “Art of Travel” Database

A medieval historian buddy sent me a link the other day that I had to share with y’all. The National University of Ireland, Galway, has put together an awesome database of historical European travel writing dated between 1500 and 1850. There’s even a fancy name for this genre of writing: ars apodemica, or the art of travel.

I made a quick pass through the database and identified four women out the project’s current collection of 166 travelers:

  1. Sophie Volland (French?)

Unfortunately, the essays by the English-language writers (Cavendish’s “An Oration concerning the Forein Travels of Young Gentlemen” and Macaulay’s critique of the Grand Tour) are both trapped behind library logins. Volland’s letters have been lost to history, but some of Félicité’s articles are available open source via her database page.

The limited number of women in the collection is likely due to the curators’  narrow definition of texts that qualify as “apodemic,” their word for texts that offer moral and philosophical commentaries on travel as a modern social practice. From the database About page: “Travel focuses upon European writing on theories and methods of travel rather than practical travel advice such as travel guides, route descriptions, or travel almanacs.”

That sounds super smart and heady, but by overlooking “travel guides and route descriptions,” the curators are excluding a large number of female diaries and letters, some of which almost certainly include the sort of philosophical musings on travel that the database aims to preserve. All we can hope is that later phases of the project will expand its scope and soften up a bit on the restrictions. (I really hate to point this out, but the curatorial team is composed of five men.)

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Anyway, Mary F. McVicker’s Women Adventurers, 1750-1900 is a better resource for those looking for a bibliography of early travel writing by women. Though the majority of entries are about English women, there are a few continental Europeans, too, along with about a dozen Americans. And every entry includes an excerpt of the woman’s own writing.

So click around the Galway database, but don’t let it fool you: women throughout history have been travelers, writers, and philosophers, too, regardless of whether some 21st-century dudes in Ireland invite them to the party.

Women’s passport history featured in Atlas Obscura

You might remember a post from awhile back about my hunt for the first American woman to get a passport. (The answer: we don’t know, but she was probably listed as “and wife” on her husband’s passport.)

Well, over the past couple of months, that post evolved into a piece for Atlas Obscura, which went live yesterday. Here’s the lead:

The 1920s Women Who Fought For the Right to Travel Under Their Own Names

The current U.S. passport includes 13 inspirational quotes from notable Americans. Only one belongs to a woman, the African-American scholar, educator, and activist Anna J. Cooper. On pages 26-27 are words she wrote in 1892: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class—it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

If equality is a journey, then it should come as no surprise that passports have helped American women to cross some of society’s most entrenched cultural borders for more than a century.

Read the rest here.

From Heels to Mukluks: the First American Woman in Antarctica

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.

And BTW, the Ronne family maintains a great archive on Edith, along with her many Antarctica-loving relatives.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Ronne in her own words: Read More »

Starting February 1: #100travelHERS

My first version of this post was rather flippant. It read, simply:

“I’m within striking distance of my goal to identity 100 female American travelers, active roughly between 1850 and 1950. To celebrate, I’m launching a hashtag! Starting February 1, I’ll post a picture and some tidbits about one woman each day for the next 100 days. Follow along at @writeroughshod or at #100travelHERS! Let the Twittering begin.”

It didn’t feel quite right, but I hit publish anyway and closed the blog. Then I visited the mud pit that is my Facebook feed and watched, yet again, as so many of my acquaintances hurled clumps of political filth at each other. And for a moment, I lost faith in my project. In fact, I felt embarrassed by it. How dare I post pictures of women (most of them white), who traveled the world a century ago, when so many living, breathing women (many of them not white) are now unable to cross certain borders because they happen to have been born in a country America has decided to fear?

At one point last night, I thought it might be best to scrap the project entirely, to wait for a more “appropriate” time. But then I remembered a quote from Maya Angelou: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

I reopened the blog and scrolled through “The List.” I re-read their quotes and stared at their photos. I realized that I’ve been so swept up in prepping Tweets for my #100travelHERS blitz that I’d started to neglect the original mission of this project: to pay attention to these women, to really pay attention, and to listen to the lessons about life, religion, politics, and art that they learned the hard way.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world,” Mary Anne Radmacher once said. I know I am not the same woman I was before moving to Austria a year ago. I am more aware. I am more empathetic. I am tougher and less afraid than I used to be. I am also more appreciative of my home country — and conscious of how precious it is to have a home. I sense that most of the women on this blog would say similar things about themselves after their own respective journeys.

As we are today, most of us can’t change the things about the world we don’t like. But we can change ourselves into stronger, smarter, more capable versions of ourselves. And those brave women will probably be able to achieve a lot.

What I’ve learned most from this blog project is that travel isn’t just for the rich, young, and liberal. It’s for Christians and libertarians. It’s for the middle aged and the retired. It’s for schoolteachers and politicians. It’s for business owners. It’s for women. It’s for you.

At heart, Americans are pioneers, pilgrims, and seekers. We are the descendants of people who migrated, either voluntarily or by force, and built new lives in new places by blending traces of the old with the reality of the new.  Travel is displacement by choice, a ritualized expression of the American tradition of movement and cultural blending. It’s our collective heritage. It’s fundamentally patriotic.

And it’s important, especially now. Because you’ll never really understand what a border is until you cross one.

So yeah, I’m going to keep going. And I hope you’ll come with me.

Jessie Ackermann: the globe-trottin’, god-fearin’ witness to the Australian women’s movement

“There is nothing in life that can compare with the delights of thinking. To grasp an idea and travel with it through a long process of evolution; to live with it, cherish it, compelling unfoldment that reveals hidden treasures, to run along with it, although the chase ends in mental chaos where one lands in the solitudes and waste places of thought, is joy unbounded. The journey often leads over some hitherto untrodden way which reveals food for the brain, enlargement for the soul, and inspiration for the battle of life.”

Few American women have blazed as many trails as Jessie Ackermann, who visited more than fifty countries and is believed to have circumnavigated the world eight times between 1889 and the late 1920s, when she returned to the United States and hung up her traveling bags for good.Read More »

Election Day 1916: Jeannette Rankin, First Woman Elected to Congress

For the first time ever, a woman is on the ballot as the presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party. Whatever your political affiliation may be, this is a big deal in the history of American politics.

So on the eve of this historic election, let’s look back and remember the women who helped us get here. On Election Tuesday, 1916 edition, Jeannette Rankin won a surprise victory to become the first woman ever elected to federal office, when she secured a Montana seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Yes, you read that right: a solid four years before women could vote, Rankin was elected. She once said, “If I am remembered for no other act, I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”Read More »