Women Travelers

Women Travelers

by Willie Mao Kneupper

A Victorian traveler, Marianne North, imposed on herself the task of painting all the world’s tropical flora. In 1882, over 800 of her paintings were put on display. A man who accidentally saw her paintings became very interested and told her, “…it is lucky for you that you did not live 200 years ago, or you could have been burnt for a witch.”

Famous women travelers of the Victorian age and of ours have had to contend with such attitudes and many physical dangers in their travels. How much do you know about famous women travelers?

1. When world traveler, Isabella Bird Bishop, was described in The Times as riding the Rockies in “male habili[vments,” she told her publisher, John Murray, that as she had neither father nor brother to defend her reputation, she expected him personally to horsewhip the Times correspondent. True or False?

2. Mary Kingsley, on her travels in West Africa, would rather have “mounted a public scaffold” than have clothed her “earthward extremities” in trousers. Was Mary Kingsley’s advice to the British government on ruling West Africa equally conservative?

3. In the 1890s, a medical missionary, Kate Marsden, traveled by sledge and horseback from Moscow to Siberia. Three muscular policemen had to lift Marsden into the sled because of all the clothes she wore against the cold. Her main food on this trip was English plum pudding – 40 pounds of it. Why did Kate Marsden travel to Siberia?

4. Rather than stay home alone, Annie Holmes Ricketson left New Bedford, MA on May 2,1871, with her whaling captain husband on an expedition to the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic. How long did her journey last?

5. When an American, accompanied by her father, took long canoe trips down the Penobscot River in New England, she was likely the first white woman to travel in this region. Her interests – developed on these trips – in the logging industry, Indians, local history and folk songs led to her books on these topics. Who was she?

6. Edith Durham, like many Victorian travelers, began her travels in the Balkans late in life. The reason Durham started traveling was similar to that of many Victorian travelers. What was it?

7. What was feminist Fanny Bullock Workman photographed holding on a Himalayan pass?

8. The Gobi Desert tells how Mildred Cable and two English women in 1926 passed through the Gate of Sighs at the end of the Great Wall of China and became the first Western women to cross the desolate Gobi Desert. What was the reason for Cable’s journey?

9. When Eslanda Goode Robeson, anthropologist and wife of Paul Robeson, visited Africa in 1936, of what place in America was she constantly reminded as she traveled?

10. Isabelle Eberhardt, on a journey to North Africa, became a fervent Muslim and traveled the Sahara on horseback. What precaution did she take to travel safely in the desert?

11. In 1927, at the age of 36, Juanita Harrison, a Black woman with little education, traveled around the world alone saying, “I have to cut my life out for myself and it won’t be like anyone else.” How did she earn the money for her travels?

12. A 1980s traveler is Mary Morris, author of Nothing to Declare, Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. Where did Mary Morris travel?

13. The author of West with the Night wasn’t, as so many others, a traveler to Africa but grew up there. Who was this author, who was also the first solo pilot to fly west from England to Nova Scotia?


1. True
2. No. She fought the imposition of European law and religion on Africans whom she believed had valid laws and religions of their own
3. To help Siberia’s lepers
4. Threeand-a-half years
5. Fannie Hardy Eckstorm
6. Travel recommended by her doctor as a remedy for ill health
7. A placard demanding “Votes for Women”
8. To do missionary work
9. The Deep South
10. Disguised herself as a man
11. Worked as a lady’s maid, staying with employers only long enough to get money to continue traveling
12. Mexico and Central America
13. Beryl Markham