Female explorers are so often lost in the history of exploration and adventure. In the spirit of sisterhood, these are five of our unsung conquering heroines.
Mary Kingsley (1862-1900)
At a time when British women were expected to stay home and oversee the domestic aspects of life, Mary was a trail blazing explorer who couldn’t be tied down. Known for her travels to unexplored West Africa, Mary was the first European to enter parts of Gabon. She shocked society with her damning opinions on European imperialism. Eventually succumbing to typhoid her dying wish, to be buried at sea was honoured.
Junko Tabei (1939 – 2016)
Considered a frail child, Japan-born Junko defied all expectations when she became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1975. The feat was the culmination of Junko’s work in forming the Ladies Climbing Club: Japan after becoming frustrated with the way female mountaineers were treated by men on expeditions. She later became the first woman to complete the seven summits.
Bessie Coleman(1892 – 1926)
As a black woman Bessie was banned from flying schools in her native USA. Unstoppable Bessie taught herself French and took herself to Europe where she was awarded her flying license a full two years before the most famous Amelia Earheart. Back in America Bessie refused to participate in segregated air shows. She tragically died in a plane crash at an air show in 1926.
Annie Smith Peck (1850 – 1935)
When Annie ascended the Matterhorn peak in 1895 her prolific mountaineering career was overshadowed by the fact she had done so wearing the distinctly ‘unfeminine’ mountain boots, a tunic and a pair of pants. Controversy didn’t phase American adventurer Annie though and she continued to climb through her long life. Her last ascent was Mount Madison’s 5,367ft at the age of 82.
Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)
The first woman to achieve a first-class degree in modern history at Oxford, Gertrude laughed in the face of convention and made great waves in the predominantly male world of archeology, military intelligence and diplomacy. She is credited with shaping the modern state of Iraq in the 1920s and in her explorations she conquered peaks such as Mont Blanc and an alpine peak that was eventually named after her, the Gertrudspitze.