Yesterday and Today’s Unforgettably Inspiring Women

By epetrovska - October 29, 2018
Credits: Bridges had to escorted to school by U.S. Marshalls.

Harriet Chalmers Adams

Credits: Chalmers Adams was canoeing down the Amazon River at a time when women were expected to be at home looking after the family. Image: United States Library of Congress

Although not a familiar name to many, Harriet Chalmers Adams lead a very exciting, seat-of-your-pants life.

Her job as a photographer for National Geographic made her life a truly memorable one.

As a founder of the Society of Woman Geographers, she has been to every part of the world.

From canoeing down the Amazon to Turkey, Haiti, Siberia, France and many others, Harriet Chalmers Adams However has seen them all.

Besides her incredible spirit and beautiful travels, Harriet also had a sharp mind.

She was the only female journalist who had access to the trenches of northern France and Belgium in the First World War.

She was a wartime report for Harper’s magazine at that time.

People are still in awe of Chalmers Adams’ photographs and reporting done from the front lines of the war for National Geographic.

Source: 9 Trailblazing Female Explorers- Harriet Chalmers Adams (1875-1937)

Myrtle Simpson

Credits: Simpson was the first woman to ski across Greenland. Image: arcticclub.org.uk.

Myrtle Simpson was a woman with many skills. She was a climber, a skier and also a writer. She was the first woman to ski across Greenland.

She was married to Hugh Simpson. Together they went on numerous expeditions.

Even when she was pregnant with her first child they embarked on a six month trip to the Arctic. 

Her life was full of adventures! She journeyed to Peru, the North Pole, China and Lima. All of her work is documented in articles, including features written for National Geographic.

Her greatest achievement, besides skiing across Greenland, is her Polar Medal which she received in 2017.

It was awarded to Simpson for her outstanding work in the field of polar research.

Sources: Myrtle Simpson, DL Mountain Culture Ambassador 2013, Myrtle Simpson – Polar Medal 2017

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz

Credits: Chojnowska-Liskiewicz faced many extremes in her 31,166 nautical mile journey around the globe.

It takes real courage to do something that no one else before has done before. PoKrystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz is the first woman to ever sail solo around the world.

Ever since Krystyna was a little girl, she was in love with the ocean.

That love lead her to a naval architecture degree and later her job as a ship designer.

As the first woman to explore the ocean’s open waters on her own, she faced many challenges.

She started the trip with a yacht built by her husband. However, the boat had troubles with the rough conditions at times, and she also had some problems with the weather extremes.

Despite this, she still managed to sail 31,166 nautical miles to achieve her goal.

Krystyna is a national hero in Poland and still lives there with her husband.

Source: Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz: Famous Explorers Of The World

Laura Dekker

Credits: As a teenager, Dekker id what most people can only dream of ever doing.

If you have not heard about this fantastic girl now is the time.

This Dutch teenager sailed solo around the world when she was only 15 years old!

She completed her journey in one year and five months, making her the youngest to circumnavigate the planet.

She also wrote a book explaining every detail of her journey, entitled ‘One Girl One Dream.’

When she left her country, she did not have any plans for the future, as might be expected of a teenager.

However, now after her trip, she has many goals she wants to accomplish.

She says that as a result of her accomplishment she is a better person, is smarter and stronger and feels like she is on the top of the world!

Source: The Amazing Voyage Of Laura Dekker, The 15-Year-Old Who Sailed Around The World Alone

Marina Ginesta

Credits: Although she did not know it for decades, Ginesta became a symbol for the generations that followed her. Image: Juan Guzmán

This is one of the most iconic photos of Marina Ginesta, a member of the Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas and militant anti-Stalinist.

This photo was taken in July, 1936, by the famous photographer Juan Guzmán. The photograph was taken when Barcelona was entering the start of the Spanish Civil War.

One of the fascinating aspects of this photo is that she was only 17 years old at the time of it being taken, and did not know about its existence until 2006.

Marina was born in France, but her parents moved to Barcelona when she was only 11 years old.

She was working as a translator and writer for Mikhail Koltsov in addition to her role as a reporter for the newspaper Pravda.

This symbolic photo of Marina is one of the most recognizable photos representing the Spanish Civil War. This photo was even used as the cover for several books.

Marina died peacefully at her home in France at the age of 94 in 2014. This photograph will continue to represent her spirit.

Sources: Marina Ginesta, a 17-year-old communist militant, overlooking Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, 1936, Marina Ginestà – “No Pasarán!”

Ruby Bridges

Credits: Bridges had to escorted to school by U.S. Marshalls.

At only six years old, Ruby Bridges had the bravery of 10 soldiers on a battlefield fighting for their country.

Ruby was the first African American student to go to an all-white school. She spent her first day of class in the principal’s office and she ate lunch alone every day.

Bridges was in a class of one because only one teacher was willing to teach her.

Some people in her community were very supportive of  Bridges, while others were protesting all across the city because they could not accept the fact that an African American was going to the same school as white children.

However, nothing could stop Ruby.

She graduated and would eventually become a travel agent She also wrote two books, one of which was given the Carter G. Woodson Book Award.

Bridges and her husband had four sons, and in addition to her many accomplishments she also founded The Ruby Bridges Foundation promoting tolerance and change through education.

Source: Ruby Bridges

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner

Credits: Kaltenbrunner is a mountaineering pioneer. Image: Franz Johann Morgenbesser / Flickr

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is a fascinating woman who had a dream come true at the age of 23.

She became the first woman who climbed all 14 peaks higher than 8.000 meters (26,247 feet).

What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that she climbed them without using oxygen tanks.

Her love for mountaineering was inspired by the local minister of her church.

Her love for mountaineering is so big she invests all the money she makes as a nurse into climbing exhibitions.

She is a very active and ambitious woman. She practices yoga, goes skiing and is also an avid mountain biker.

Kaltenbrunner lives in Black Forest, Germany, and still continues to climb. The mountains are in her heart.  

Sources: Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Moved by the mountains

Ynes Mexia

Credits: For Mexia, her latter life became all about flower power. Image: Sue Hendrickson, Flickr

Another woman who shows us that when we set our mind on something, nothing should stop us, especially age.

Born in 1Ynes Mexia had a complicated life, starting with her parent’s divorce, two failed marriages and battles for money with her own family.

That was until later in life she began working as a social worker in San Francisco where she started showing interest in botany.

She went to college again when she was 51 years old.

Over the years she pursued her career as a botanist, she went all over the world and collected more than 150,000 specimens of plants.

She died from lung cancer in 1938, but her name will remain in the botanical community with the naming of several flowers in her honor.

Source: Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia -AMERICAN BOTANIST, Women in Science: Ynes Mexia 1870-1938

Miriam O'Brien Underhill

Credits: Leading the way over the highest mountains made O'Brien Underhill an inspiration for woman across the globe.

Behind every successful woman is her will to show to the world that women are equal as men are.

Moreover, staring in the 1920s Miriam O’Brien Underhill became a prominent feminist who conquered every mountain and every peak she tackled all by herself.

She inherited the love for mountains from her mother. She learned that by taking the lead, she could learn more and do more.

She was the first woman to scale the Matterhorn and other famous peaks such as the Grépn without any assistance, especially help by men.

She knew that she would learn more about mountaineering by taking charge. She was rebellious, a feminist and someone who showed the world what women are capable of.

To this day, O’Brien Underhill is still a role model for female climbers.

Sources:  Men? Mountaineer Miriam O’Brien Underhill Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Men, Women of the White Mountains

Josephine Baker

Credits: She broke ground on many fronts, but Baker might be best known for her efforts with the Red Cross and Free French movement to entertain the troops during wartime.

Freda Josephine Mcdonald born on June 3, 1906, and more famously known as Josephine Baker, was a true definition of beauty, talent and vibrancy.

She was a fantastic dancer, singer and also an actress. 

However, she was not just a beautiful woman. She participated in the civil rights movements, was a volunteer with the Red Cross and entertained troops in the Middle East and Africa.

It was during this time Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour.

She adopted several children from different nationalities in 1950, eventually retiring from show business in 1959. 

She died in France and was buried there with full military honors.

“All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice.”

Source: Josephine Baker

Aimée Crocker

Credits: She lived her life the way she wanted, and not everyone was a fan of that.

Unlike the Disney princesses and their stories about love at first sight, this beautiful princess was not afraid to love and to be loved multiple times.

Twelve times, to be more precise. And all of her love stories are published in her autobiography.

This particular princess was called ‘The most fantastic woman of her age.’

Cocker was a reckless spirit and adventurer who spent her youth breaking every taboo she could find; exploring jungles, exploring the oceans and all the while refusing to conform to societal norms for the ‘fairer’ sex.

Along the way, she turned her back on the Christian values expected of society at the time.

Her 1936 book “And I’d Do It Again” is full of interesting ventures, her controversial life and her fancy lifestyle.

Even though Crocker passed away in 1941 her life has been an inspiration to people — even 80 years after her death.

There is a fashion brand called ‘Marchesa’ that released a fashion line inspired by her life and her travels.

Sources: “The Most Fantastic Woman of Her Age” The Bohemian Heiress Who Shattered 19th-Century Taboos

Bessie Coleman

Credits: Coleman wasn't allowed to pursue a pilot's license in the U.S. so she went overseas instead. Image: IIP Photo Archive / Wikimedia

Elizabeth Colman grew up in Texas with her mother and her 12 siblings. She had to start working at an early age to support her family.

Her love for aviation started developing when she moved to Chicago and started reading books about World War II.

Unfortunately, she lived in an era when there was racial discrimination. However, that did not stop her. She learned French on her own and moved to France to pursue her dreams.

After seven months she received her pilot’s license from the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation, becoming the first black woman to be a pilot.

Even though her life ended when she was only 34 years old as a result of an aviation accident, she will always be remembered for her aerial stunts and also as the first black woman to break barriers in the aviation field.

Source: Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman – A Pioneer of Aviation

Barbara Hillary

Credits: Age wasn't anything that could stop this woman.

For this woman, age is just a number.

When she was 79 years old, Barabara Hillary reached the North and South poles, making her the first black woman in history to achieve this feat.

She developed her love for skiing and ice-skating when she was a little girl growing up in Harlem.

Unfortunately for Hillary, her family never had the money to take her anywhere she could ski or mountain climb.

When she retired she perused her dreams, training long hours even though at that moment she had lung cancer.

She raised the money and finally hired some guides to help her with her Arctic goals.

After every obstacle that was in her way, there she was standing at the top of the world knowing that she made her dream come true!

Source: Barbara Hillary: Our favourite boundary breaker

Ann Bancroft

Credits: Bancroft not only broke new ground for both sexes, she is making sure other women have the same chances she has had.

This American explorer is not afraid to take risks.

Ann Bancroft (no, not the actress who spells her name ‘Anne’) is the first woman to reach the North Pole on foot and by sled.

She worked as teacher, coach and also as wilderness instructor.

Her life is filled with amazing journeys and many firsts. One of her great achievements is leading an all-female group to the South Pole, making her the first woman to cross the icy terrains of both the North and South Poles.

She received many awards for her achievements and also inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame.

Now, Ann shares her adventures and talent with other women in order to motivate them to pursue their dreams the same way she did!

Source: Ann Bancroft American Explorer  Ann Bancroft, Polar Explorer

Sue Hendrickson

Credits: This relic hunter found the most complete T-rex skeleton in the world.

Every kid knows what they want to be when they grow up: a doctor, a pilot, a nurse, maybe an entertainer.

However, Sue Hendrickson knew that she wanted to be a fossil hunter since she was four years old.

Not only did she perused her dream of becoming a paleontologist, but she is also a marine archaeologist and looks for lost treasures and shipwrecks.

Her most significant achievement in life is finding the biggest Tyrannosaurus rex. The bones of the T-rex were 67 million years old and were all preserved, 200 bones in total.

Sue is still working as a paleontologist, and she thinks that more things in the world need to be found! Good luck, Sue!

Source: Meet Dinosaur Expert Sue Hendrickson

Lady Hester Stanhope

Credits: Stanhope did everything in her power to see as much of the world as she could.

Lady Hester Stanhope was a headstrong woman!

After living with her uncle and running his household, she decided that she wanted to travel the world at the age of 33.

She did just that for two years all around Europe and also the Middle East.

She was known for her rebellious and passionate spirit.

Having that spirit meant always looking for an adventure, and in 1813 she decided to go on a trip to Palmyra and hunt for a hidden treasure.

She arrived with a camel caravan 22 strong beasts-strong, and the people in Palmyra were so obsessed with her she was bestowed the honorary title of ‘Queen Hester,’

Her legacy is still remembered till this day because there are memoirs written about her exciting life and her journeys around the world.

Source: Lady Hester Stanhope, Queen of the Desert

Edmonia Lewis

Credits: Old Arrow Maker, one of Lewis' sculptures.

Born in 1843 or 1845 (records differ on this) Edmonia Lewis grew up having a difficult life.

Her parents died when she was five years old. Her brother left her so he could make money to help support he and his sister, and when she was in college she was falsely accused of poisoning her two white roommates and stealing art tools.

As a result, she was kicked out of school.

Her brother worked hard so he can finance her and her fantastic work focused around sculpting.

Her career started when she was able to move to Boston. She began creating sculptures of well-known activists, and she finally started making money.

She had many ups and down, but she finally accomplished what she was struggling her whole life to attain. She became the first African-American professional sculptor.

Source: Edmonia Lewis

Annie Cohen Kopchovsky

Credits: It started with a bet and ended with another female figure breaking boundaries on her way to inspiring millions.

A woman who changed the perspective about cycling and feminity, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (also known as Annie Londonderry) was the first woman who cycled around the world.

It’s a fascinating fact that her journey started as a bet following an 1894 discussion.

She wanted to prove to a gentleman that a woman could cycle the world alone and show that women were equal to men.

She fought through many issues with her bike and suffered physical injuries, but she still made it!

She claimed the bet and showed the world that women are capable of anything!

Since then she has been an inspiration to other woman cyclists. She died peacefully in her home in New York in 1947.

Sources: The First Woman To Bike Around The World, First woman to cycle the globe begins journey

Isabelle Eberhardt

Credits: Eberhardt was an explosive mix of intelligence and addictive dependencies.

“One must never look for happiness: one meets it by the way.” – Isabelle Eberhardt

Isabelle was a brilliant woman who spoke seven languages by the time she was 20 years old.

She was an adventurer who left her country to explore North Africa. She led a life like there is no tomorrow.

She had many lovers, she drank and she smoked. She was an incredible journalist, writing about places in Europe that people had never seen.

What she could never find was her rightful place in the world. She converted to Islam because of her love for the Islamic culture.

She died young at the age of 27, but her rebellious spirit will always be remembered as that of one of an indefinable adventurer.

Source: Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904) The Undefinable Adventurer

Ida Pfeiffer

Credits: There was no holding Pfeiffer back and she eventually crossed four continents, writing and collecting specimens along the way.

Ida Pfeiffer is known as the first European woman to cross the interior of the third largest island in the world, Borneo.

She loved traveling, and she enjoyed exploring the world. She spent her life as a travel journalist, and she authored many books.


There were so successful that they were translated into seven other languages.

As a woman living in the 18th century and traveling the world alone, it was difficult for Ida because at the time it was considered that women should not be undertaking such excursions.

Her journies took her 32,000 kilometers (19,988 miles) across four continents.

Pfeiffer died in 1858 in Vienna. How did her work influence the world?

Her books are now used by ethnologists because of the in-depth information they present about cultures and societal norms of foreign peoples.

Her many plant and historical samples are now on display in Vienna’s Naturhistorisches Museum.

Source: Ida Pfeiffer

Isabella Bird

Credits: Isabella Bird was determined to make the most of her life, despite the hardships she faced with her health. Image: G.P. Putnam’s Sons / New York Public Library

As a child, Isabella Bird suffered from several illnesses.

She was a petite and fragile person. When she was 19 years old, she was diagnosed with a spine tumor.

The 1850 surgery was not considered a complete sucand when only a portion of the tumor was removed Bird was left fighting insomnia and bouts of depression.

Her travels began when her father gave her money to go on a trip, as her doctor recommended to do. She traveled to North America and later in life she traveled to Asia, Persia and also Korea.

Her life was full of exhilarating experiences. She never stopped traveling the world.

Her last trip was when she was 70 years old visiting Africa and Morocco.

Her trips made her a famous person in her country. Later she became the first female member of the Royal Geographical Society.

Isabella wrote many books about her life as an unusual and daring traveler.

Source: The Life of Isabella Bird

Addie and Gussie Van Buren

Credits: The Van Burens wanted to become dispatch riders and tried to prove their worth by taking their motorcycles across America.

If we had to use three words to describe these sisters, they would be: heroic, brave and persistent!

In a time when women didn’t have any rights to vote, could rarely do anything without permission and were considered not to be equal as men, Addie and Gussie Van Buren broke down gender borders when they st trip across America.

Even though at that time it was forbidden they became women legends in motorcycling. They rode through Los Angeles, Buffalo, Omaha and Denver.

No small feat, since the roads outsides of the big cities were dusty and unpaved.

Even though they were thrown from their bikes on more than one occasion, they never had any severe injuries.

They were sisters with big hopes and big dreams of serving the country as dispatch riders. However, they were declined.

Their legacy continues till this day as they were admitted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame.

Source: Addie & Gussie Van Buren – True Legends

Alexandra David-Néel

Credits: David-Néel wanted to expand on the world outside her window, so she started to take epic voyages overseas from her home in France.

Reading science fiction books and authors like Jules Verne, Alexandra David-Néel grew up to be a rebellious, mystical and adventurous woman.

She was born in 1868 with a severe case of wanderlust.

This French woman, who was also a Buddhist, had an extraordinary life.

When she was young, she was into Buddhist mythology and had a special interest in the life of Siddhartha Gautama. In 1889 she made her first spiritual journey to India.

When she was 55 years old, she crossed the Trans-Himalayas to reach the forbidden city of Lhasa.

This extraordinary woman died at the age of 101, leaving behind her 30 books about Eastern religions and everything about Tibetan Buddhism.

On October 4, 2018, the 105th anniversary of Alexandra’s fantastic life was celebrated!

Source: The Extraordinary Alexandra David-Néel: First European Woman to Travel to the Forbidden City of Lhasa

Gertrude Bell

Credits: Bell's story was told in the 2015 film Queen of the Desert. Image: Gertrude Bell Archive - Newcastle University

Gertrude Bell, born in 1868 to a wealthy family,  was the first woman to have a degree in modern history from Oxford. She was also a world traveler, an archaeologist and even a very experienced mountaineer.

She showed much interest for the Middle East and their culture when she made her first trip to Iran in 1892. She wanted to preserve their history and their heritage.

The British government relied heavily on Bell’s knowledge of the region during its WWI effo

She was respected by the Iranian people, and she had the title ‘khutan’ that means ‘queen.’ Gertrude died in Baghdad when she was 58 years old.

Source: Gertrude Bell: The Queen of the Desert

Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman (Nellie Bly)

Credits: Bly helped expose the extreme conditions being faced by patients in a New York metal institution.

Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, also known by her pen name Nellie Bly, is the first American investigative journalist.

She started her career when she was 16 years old writing columns for women. However, she was more than that.

With the help of her editor, she started writing about more complicated topics.

After spending some time in Mexico and New York as a special correspondent, she got so good at her job that she was asked to use her skills and investigate the story of 1,600 patients in a mental health asylum based in New York.

She released her report after one month uncovering the extreme abuses these patients underwent on a daily basis.

A grand jury took care of that case, and 16 doctors and nurses on charges were fired on charges of neglect thanks to Nellie Bly.

Source: How Nellie Bly went undercover to expose abuse of the mentally ill