We’ve all heard about Magellan, Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortes – but what about Sarah Winnemucca, Annie Londonberry and Valentina Tereshkova? These incredible ladies paved the way for women’s exploration and have inspired us to go above and beyond. Here are some of history’s most inspiring female explorers who changed the world.
Early Female Explorers Who Changed The World And Empowered Women
Sarah Winnemucca was a Native American Norther Paiute woman who doubles as an author, translator, activist and educator. Her travels led her all over Nevada and the American West. But the true beauty of her legacy lies in her work. Thanks to her incredible language skills, she worked as a translator between various Native American communities and Anglo-American colonisers.
She used this as a means not just to mend broken bridges between the two peoples, but to spread the truth of the mistreatment of her people. She is responsible for spreading knowledge far and wide of the abuses toward hers and other tribes.
Amelia Earhart’s name is synonymous around the globe with adventure. This fiery woman paved the way for female pilots as she was the first one to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Her untimely demise has gone down in history as one of the most tragic mysteries in the world. Wherever she disappeared to, whatever became of her, we are grateful for the trail she left behind for female adventurers.
Bessie Coleman defied the odds of race and gender during her quest to become a pilot. Because she was banned from taking flying lessons in the US, she was forced to train in France. She didn’t let this slow her, though. Once she finished training in France, she headed straight back to the US where she performed in aerial shows and constantly wowed crowds with her skill.
Tragically, she died at the age of 34, but not before inspiring further progress for women of colour in America.
Isabella Bird was an adventurer far ahead of her time. Born in Yorkshire in 1831, she did the unthinkable and adventured all over the world. She traipsed around Australia, North America, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, and so many more. Isabella even climbed an active volcano in Hawaii.
She authored countless books on her travels, and if that weren’t enough, she was also one of the first female explorers to be entered into the Royal Geographical Society of London.
This just wouldn’t be a list of female explorers without a nod to French explorer Jeanne Baret. In the late 18th century, she became the first woman ever to circumnavigate the earth. Albeit under the guise of a man, she managed to travel on a ship with 300 men for three years around the world and go down in history as one of the greatest female explorers.
When it came to going above and beyond, Valentina Tereshkova took that literally. Russian born with a thirst for adrenaline and aviation, she became the first woman in space. Famously, on Vostok 6, she circled the Earth 48 times. In no time at all, this parachute enthusiast turned Soviet cosmonaut was inspiring women around the world.
Oxford grad, archaeology expert and adventurer extraordinaire, Gertrude Bell did it all. Fluent in both Arabic and Persian, she worked alongside T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as a writer and archaeologist. Because of her incredible work in the Middle East, she’s responsible for providing an accurate image of the Middle East to Great Britain that the country wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Nellie Bly, aka Elizabeth Jan Cochran, was an American journalist most famously known for her exposé on Blackwell’s Island Women’s Lunatic Asylum. She went undercover for 10 days as a mental patient to reveal the atrocities being committed against patients in this asylum and asylums all over the nation.
More famously, though, she’s known for her quest to beat Jules Verne’s fictional Around the World in 80 Days. And she did. Travelling by ship, train, horseback and everything in between, she started in England. From England, she went to France, Singapore, Japan, and California then back to the East Coast – all in 72 days.
Despite being denied to the Royal Geographical Society of London due to being a woman, this Austrian globe trotter knew no bounds. Known today as one of the world’s first female explorers, she set off for a life of adventure after her children were grown in the 1800’s when being an independent, travelled and educated woman was unheard of.
She started her exploits in Istanbul before hopping to Jerusalem, Giza, Italy, Iceland, Scandinavia, Brazil, China, India, Iraq – the list goes on and on. With Ida Pfeiffer, we can’t help but think of this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same…”
Annie was born in Riga in the late 1800’s. She later became a Latvian immigrant to the United States when she married and became Annie Kopchovsky. An athlete, entrepreneur and mother of three, you’d think she’d be satisfied, but no. Annie wanted more. She was hungry for the world. Hungry for adventure. She became the first woman to circle the globe on a bicycle.
After a wager was made challenging her to circle the globe in under 15 months while making at least $5,000, she said ‘challenge accepted’ and got on her way. Her ‘new name’ was Annie Londonderry, and on June 25, 1894, she pedalled off for the world from Boston. Along the way, she sold promotional photos of herself and offered paid appearances. A true businesswoman.