In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s take a moment to celebrate just a few of the intrepid women travelers who forged paths around the world, often in the face of great danger and societal opposition. In doing so, these women cleared the way for the rest of us to follow.
In 1777, Jeanne Baret was the first woman to successfully circumnavigate the globe – albeit traveling as a man. Some 211 years later, Kay Cottee became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe without stopping.
Nellie Bly, a journalist, set out in 1890 to recreate the book Around the World in Eighty Days; it only took her 72 days to complete the trip.
Anna Leonowens was not just a character in a musical, but an actual teacher for the King of Siam in the 1860s. Meanwhile, Isabella Bird saw so much of the world that, in 1892, she became the first female member of the Royal Geographical Society.
Gertrude Bell traveled throughout the Middle East in the first half of the 20th century and became a leading Middle East expert for the British Empire; she worked alongside T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) in Egypt during WWI. Freya Stark likewise traveled extensively in the Middle East in the 1930s, including to parts of Iran where no Westerners had gone before.
In 1975, Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Mt. Everest (and later, also the first woman to summit the highest mountain on every continent). And in the most “far-out” adventure, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to travel to space, in 1963.
In centuries past, travel offered women a freedom that they were denied at home. These days, our reasons for traveling are as varied as our destinations, but we share the same curiosity and passion for the world as the women who came before us. In honor of their legacy, go forth and explore!