15 Female Explorers You Should Know

Amelia Earhart operating the controls of a flying laboratory in 1935.
Amelia Earhart operating the controls of a flying laboratory in 1935.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You've heard of Christopher Columbus, Lawrence of Arabia, and Lewis and Clark. But do you know the incredible accomplishments of Gertrude Bell, Osa Johnson, or Valentina Tereshkova? In the female sect of explorers, there are heiresses, socialites, rebels, and cross-dressers. But the one thing they share beyond their sex is an intrepid spirit that thirsts for adventure.

1. Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell (second from left, second row) and the Members of the Mesopotamia CommissionGeneral Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A contemporary and colleague of T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. the inspiration for Lawrence of Arabia), Gertrude Bell was a writer and archaeologist who traveled all around the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Her books gave the people of Great Britain a clear concept of the empire's outer territories and are still studied today.

An Oxford graduate who was fluent in Persian and Arabic, she met Lawrence while working in the Arab Bureau in Cairo during World War I. She's best known for her contribution to the Conference in Cairo in 1921, where the beginnings of Iraq as a nation were forged. She'd later pioneer the school of thought that relics and antiquities should be preserved in their home nations. The National Museum of Iraq was born from her efforts.

2. Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly was a journalist known for her exposé of the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.
H. J. Myers, photographer, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

American journalist Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Jane Cochrane) is best known for her world-changing exposé for which she went undercover to reveal the abuse going on at Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island. But on November 14, 1889, Bly took on a new challenge for Joseph Pulitzer's paper,The New York World.

Inspired by Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days, Bly set out to beat the fictional globetrotting record. Traveling in ships, trains, and rickshaws, on horseback and on mules, Bly made her way from England to France, Singapore to Japan, and California back to the East Coast. And she did all this in 72 days. Well, 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds to be precise. Naturally, Bly's bold endeavor made for a series of thrilling news stories, as well as a memoir—Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.

3. Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird traveled around the world. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A prolific author and fearless traveler, Isabella Bird thwarted social convention and her own sickly nature by traveling about the world at will, and often alone. "The English Bird" wrote her first book after coming to the United States in 1854. From there, she traveled to Australia and then Hawaii, where she trekked up an active volcano. She also explored the Rocky Mountains in Colorado before traveling to Japan, China, Indonesia, Morocco, and the Middle East. This resulted in books like The Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, and The Yangtze Valley and Beyond. For all her incredible contributions, Bird was inducted into the Royal Geographical Society of London in 1892. She was the first woman ever to earn the honor.

4. Fanny Bullock Workman

Fanny Bullock Workman wearing mountain climbing gear.Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Traveling with her husband William Hunter Workman, M.D., this American mountaineer broke a string of women's altitude records while becoming a noted geographer, cartographer, and travel writer. The Workmans both came from wealth, enabling them to go on extravagant and arduous trips, like bicycle rides through Spain and India and treks up the Himalayas.

A shameless self-promoter, Workman earned a reputation for riling her rivals. But her dedication to detailing her accomplishments with precise measurements and thorough documentation meant she could back up her big mouth. Fanny was a compelling orator who became the first American woman to lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris, and the second female explorer ever allowed to address—and later join—the Royal Geographical Society of London.

5. Jeanne Baré

Imagined portrait of Jeanne Baré dressed as a sailor.Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A French sailor and botanist in the 1700s, Jeanne Baré was the first woman to circumnavigate the world. However, she did it disguised as a man, a ruse that kept her close to her love, Philibert de Commerson. The two met over a shared passion for botany. First she was the teacher to the widowed man's children, then his assistant, and later his lover.

When Commerson scored a commission from the French government to sail the world and conduct research, the couple conspired to hide Baré's gender by dressing her as a man, "Jean." It worked for more than a year, but when the crew hit the South Pacific, some islanders uncovered the truth, though particulars on how vary. When Baré returned to France, the Navy paid tribute to "this extraordinary woman" and her work of gathering new species of plants by giving her a pension of 200 livres a year.

6. Aimée Crocker

Aimee Crocker and her children. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

An American railroad heiress born in 1864, Aimée Crocker was infamous for her lavish parties and long list of lovers and husbands. She was a frequent subject of society gossip and a proud friend of Oscar Wilde. But when the public attention became too much, Crocker took off on a tour of the Far East.

On route, she detoured to Hawaii, where she met King Kalākaua, who—according to her memoir And I'd Do It Againwas so enchanted with her that he gave her an island and the title Princess Palaikalani (which is said to translate to "Bliss of Heaven"). Crocker's book offers a slew of other outrageous encounters, including run-ins with headhunters in Borneo, a would-be murderer in Shanghai, and a sultry boa constrictor in India. After 10 years abroad, Crocker returned with wild tales, tattoos, a devotion to Buddhism, and a whole new allure for the high society of America.

7. Ida Pfeiffer

Ida Pfeiffer was one of the world's first female explorers.Adolf Dauthage, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Though barred from the Royal Geographical Society of London because of her gender, this Austrian globe-trekker is now celebrated as one of the world's first female explorers. She took to traveling once her children were grown, and frequently journeyed alone. Knowing the risk, she penned up her will before heading off on her first trip to the Holy Land. From there, she trekked to Istanbul, Jerusalem, and Giza, visiting the pyramids on camelback. On her return trip, she detoured through Italy.

From these travels, Pfieffer published her first book in 1846. Its success funded her next exploration to Iceland and Scandinavia, which in turn became the subject of her next book. More trips were made to Brazil, China, India, Iraq, Borneo, and Indonesia. Her works would be translated into seven languages and earn her spots in the geographical societies of Berlin and Paris.

8. Sacagawea

Sacagawea was an important member of the Corps of Discovery.Edgar Samuel Paxson, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

All of the credit of the Lewis and Clark expeditions of 1800s America traditionally goes to its namesakes Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but this Native American teen proved to be a crucial member of this Corps of Discovery. A member of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe, she and her trader husband Toussaint Charbonneau met Lewis and Clark while the explorers visited among the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes of North Dakota.

Joining their expedition with Charbonneau by her side and her newborn son Jean Baptiste on her back, she served as an interpreter when the party reached Southern Montana, where she grew up. With her help, the newly acquired territories of the West were explored and mapped, a crucial step in maintaining the United States' claim to them.

9. Osa Johnson

The traveler and filmmaker Osa Johnson.George Eastman House, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Born Osa Helen Leighty, this American explorer met her match in travel photographer Martin Johnson. The pair married May 15, 1910, and by 1917 they began traveling the globe together, making films to document their discoveries. Their documentaries boasted such provocative titles as Among the Cannibals of the South Pacific, Jungle Adventures, Headhunters of the South Seas, and Wonders of the Congo.

They worked as a team. Martin shot pictures and film, while Osa hunted for food and when necessary defended her husband with her rifle. This was the case when a rhino in the wild full-on charged the pair. Osa brought it down, while Martin captured the entire encounter with his camera. The Johnsons promoted their films with lecture tours, and in 1940 Osa released the best-selling memoir I Married Adventure. The Johnsons' films and photos can be seen in Disney's Animal Lodge and at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in their home state of Kansas.

10. Isabelle Eberhardt

Isabelle Eberhardt, a Swiss explorer, only lived to be 27. Apic/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in 1877 in Geneva the daughter of a Prussian aristocrat and an ex-priest turned anarchist, Isabelle Eberhardt was fated to defy convention. She took to wearing men's clothes at an early age, and by 20 had converted to Islam. When she later began traveling alone through North Africa in the 1890s, she presented herself as a Muslim man named Si Mahmoud Saadi.

Eberhardt only lived to be 27; her life was cut short by a flash flood in a desert in 1904. Still, in her short life she participated in revolts against French colonialism, wrote travel essays for French magazines, survived an assassination attempt that nearly severed her arm, and smoke, drank, and had sex whenever and with whomever she liked. Much of this is documented in The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt, which paint her as a creature of her own creation, formed between the Sahara and fearless sexual exploration.

11. Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was known as the "First Lady of the Oceans."Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This Polish sea captain and shipbuilding engineer earned the title of "First Lady of the Oceans" when she became the first woman to sail solo around the world in 1976. On February 28th, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz left from the Canary Islands. Her ship Mazurek was built in Poland with its construction led by her husband. Her route took her through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean. From there, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz steered across the Indian Ocean and then down around Africa.

She returned to the Canary Islands on April 21, 1978, having traversed 31,166 nautical miles in 401 days. That meant more than a year with only herself as company and crew, preparing all her meals, maintaining the boat, and facing potential threats like storms, rough seas and even pirates alone. She said of her solo voyage, "Grown people should be aware that sometimes in life is lonely. But during the trip I was not plagued by loneliness. I was not lonely, but alone. There's a difference."

12. Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart in front of her bi-plane called Friendship in Newfoundland.Getty Images News

American aviatrix Amelia Earhart is best known for becoming the first female pilot to ever fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Her interest in aviation was sparked as a young woman when she attended a stunt-flying exhibition. A natural tomboy, she wasn't deterred by social pressure that suggested a cockpit was no place for a woman. She took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921, and bought her own plane six months later.

The following year she'd break the woman's world altitude record, reaching 14,000 feet. A slew of other accomplishments followed, including speed records and solo flights. Earhart urged other women to fly by writing pieces about aviation for Cosmopolitan magazine and helped found The Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots. It was while attempting to set a record for flying around the world that Earhart and her plane went missing. Some evidence suggests she crash-landed on an uninhabited island and lived out the rest of her days there.

13. Annie Londonderry

Annie Londonderry was the first woman to go around the globe on bicycle. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born in Latvia Annie Cohen, she married in the U.S. and became Annie Kopchovsky. But this mother of three's ambitions as an athlete, entrepreneur, and explorer urged her to create a new name for herself: Annie Londonderry, the first woman to circle the globe on a bicycle. A bet was made that challenged her to circumnavigate the world in under 15 months while earning at least $5,000 along the way. What might seem a silly wager became a way to challenge the concept of female propriety as well as a chance for her to show just how a woman might get on in the world on her own.

Departing from her husband and children on June 25, 1894, Londonderry set off from the Massachusetts State House in Boston with a crowd of 500 looking on. Along her route she sold promotional photos of herself and made paid appearances. She leased out advertising space on her clothes and bicycle, among these a billboard for Londonderry Lithia Spring Water. Once her ride was complete, The New York World called her adventure “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.”

14. Lady Hester Stanhope

Lady Hester Stanhope was the first Biblical archaeologist. Scanned by Phrood, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Charming and witty, Lady Stanhope was an admired socialite in English high society. But after a string of messy romances, she left England forever at the age of 33, and went on to become the first Biblical archaeologist. She journeyed to Greece, Turkey, France, and Germany.

En route to Egypt, Stanhope discarded her feminine and European attire for menswear of most common in Tunisia, a look that would prove her signature the rest of her days. She traversed through Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Later, she'd tell tales of how she so impressed the Bedouin tribes that they named her Queen of the Desert, successor to Zenobia. But her greatest success came in 1815, when she convinced Ottoman authorities to allow her to excavate the ruins of Ashkelon. Stanhope went looking for gold, but instead found a 7-foot headless marble statue—which she ordered smashed to bits.

15. Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to travel into space, at the Science Museum in London, England. Leon Neal/Getty Images News

Leaving Earth exploration behind, we move to on to the first woman to travel into space, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. She flew the Vostok 6 mission, which launched on June 16, 1963. But her path to space was paved with tragedy. Her family was stricken personally and financially when her father died in World War II. Tereshkova was only able to attend school from age 8-16.

While working at factories, she continued her education through correspondence courses. Though she had no piloting experience, Tereshkova was accepted into the Soviet space program because she'd done 126 parachute jumps, an essential skill in a cosmonaut's descent to Earth. After much training, she was chosen to pilot Vostok 6, and logged 70 hours in space, making 48 orbits around Earth. Her work earned her the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, as well as the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 of the Best True Crime Documentaries You Can Stream Right Now

A still from Frank Serpico (2017).
A still from Frank Serpico (2017).
IFC Films

Is the true crime genre going anywhere? Probably not. Since Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line premiered in 1988 and helped free an innocent man accused of murder, filmmakers and viewers have developed a bottomless appetite for movies based on true stories that shed light on some of the darker sides of the human condition. Check out some of the best true crime documentaries you can stream right now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other platforms.

1. I Love You, Now Die (2019)

Teenagers in love Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy nourished their long-distance relationship via text messaging. But as Conrad’s moods grew darker, Michelle believed the best way to help her boyfriend would be to encourage him to take his own life. That dynamic sets the stage for a dramatic trial in Massachusetts that asks whether it's possible to be responsible for taking someone’s life via text.

Find It: HBO

2. Frank Serpico (2017)

An honest cop among thieves in late 1960s and early 1970s New York, Frank Serpico helped bring down corrupt officers and inspired the 1973 film Serpico starring Al Pacino. This film goes inside the mind of the man who made sure justice was being served—even at the risk of his own life.

Find it: Hulu

3. Dead Man's Line (2017)

In July 1977, a man named Tony Kiritsis phoned police in Indianapolis and told them he was holding a hostage named Richard Hall at gunpoint. But this was no typical crime: Kiritsis had strapped his shotgun to Hall's neck with a dead man's switch that would set off the trigger if cops shot and killed him. When he marched Hall out on the street, cops were helpless to intervene, which set off an astonishing chain of events. For Kiritsis, this dramatic display was personal, vengeful, and meant to be a spectacle—the result of a vendetta against the Hall family. What follows is a twist-laden and arresting portrait of a man who believes he's doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Find It: Amazon Prime

4. Out of Thin Air (2017)

In 1974, two men in Iceland disappeared. A police investigation led to six men, who were all eventually sent to prison after confessing to murder. Decades later, new evidence casts doubt on their version of events—and whether they killed anyone at all.

Find It: Netflix

5. Long Shot (2017)

Though it’s more of a short film than a feature, this examination of Juan Catalan’s fight to be recognized as innocent of committing murder is notable for his attorney’s methodology: Catalan couldn’t have done it because he was at a baseball game. How they go about proving that turns into one of the biggest left-field twists you’re ever likely to see.

Find It: Netflix

6. Killing for Love (2016)

When married couple Derek and Nancy Haysom are found dead in their Virginia home in 1985, suspicion falls on their daughter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Jens Söring. Was Jens a co-conspirator, or just a pawn in Elizabeth’s game? Watch and find out.

Find It: Hulu

7. Amanda Knox (2016)

College student Amanda Knox grabbed headlines in 2007 and beyond when her roommate, Meredith Kercher, was found dead in the apartment the two shared in Italy. What follows is a grueling path through an often-impenetrable Italian justice system.

Find It: Netflix

8. Dream/Killer (2015)

Bill Ferguson lived every parent's worst nightmare: In 2005, his son Ryan was sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder. But the elder Ferguson is convinced Ryan is innocent, setting off an unlikely chain of events that will test the foundation of the judicial system in America.

Find It: Netflix

9. Soaked in Bleach (2015)

The suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994 was eulogized as a rock star tragedy. Soaked in Bleach ponders whether there was more to Cobain's life—and death—than was originally reported.

Find It: Amazon Prime

10. Without Charity (2013)

In 2000, police discovered a trio of construction workers who had been murdered at an expensive home in Indiana. As police dig deeper, they discover the puzzling presence of Charity Payne, a woman who might have helped a group of robbers to break in and commit the murders.

Find It: Amazon Prime