Throughout history, there have been many women who have defied societal norms and embarked on incredible adventures to explore the world.
These women broke through barriers and challenged gender preconceptions in their areas. From climbing to aviation, archaeology to ethnography, these women broke new ground and made enormous contributions to science, culture, and society.
Their bravery, determination, and resilience have inspired generations of women to push the barriers and follow their ambitions.
It is critical to remember and honor the accomplishments of these famous female explorers who set the way for future generations of adventurers in this age of discovery.
Famous Female Explorers
1. Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was an English writer, archaeologist, and explorer who was instrumental in shaping modern-day Iraq. She was born in Durham, England, to a rich family. She studied history at Oxford University before traveling extensively throughout the Middle East, where she learned numerous languages and developed an interest in archaeology.
During World War I, Bell was recruited by British intelligence to assist in the establishment of an Arab state in the Middle East. She collaborated closely with the Arab leader, Emir Faisal, and was instrumental in the discussions that resulted in the foundation of the current state of Iraq. She was also a political counselor to King Faisal and was involved in the development of Iraq’s first constitution.
Bell was a prolific writer and photographer who documented her Middle Eastern travels and archaeological explorations. She also published numerous novels, including “The Desert and the Sown,” on her travels in Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia.
Gertrude Bell was a trailblazer in a time when women’s responsibilities in society were limited, and her accomplishments in archaeology, politics, and travel continue to inspire women all around the world.
2. Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) was an American aviation pioneer who became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was born in Kansas and grew up with a strong desire to travel and fly. She achieved multiple aviation records, including being the first woman to fly alone across the United States and the fastest non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City.
Earhart became the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, earning her international fame. She later authored a book called “20 Hours, 40 Minutes” on her ordeal. She went on to break numerous additional records, including the first solo flight from Hawaii to California and the first solo flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City and back.
In 1937, Amelia Earhart set out to become the first woman to fly around the world. Unfortunately, she vanished over the Pacific Ocean, and her plane was never located. Despite her early death, Amelia Earhart continues to inspire women all over the world with her pioneering spirit, bravery, and tenacity to break through boundaries and realize her objectives.
Sacagawea (about 1788-1812) was a Lemhi Shoshone woman who served on the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a guide and interpreter.
She was hired as a teenager by the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804, to help them navigate the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and communicate with the Native American tribes they encountered.
Sacagawea was vital to the expedition’s success, assisting the explorers in obtaining food, water, and safe passage by leveraging her knowledge of the land and language skills.
She also served as a liaison between the explorers and the Native American tribes they encountered, assisting in the building of harmonious ties and the securement of vital supplies.
Sacagawea’s contributions to the Lewis and Clark Expedition were crucial, and she is now considered as a symbol of Native Peoples’ vital involvement in the exploration and settlement of the American West. She is also seen on the US $1 coin.
4. Isabella Bird
Isabella Bird (1831–1904) was a British explorer, natural historian, and writer who traveled extensively throughout Asia, North America, and Africa. She was raised in a rich household in Yorkshire, England. Bird had bad health her entire life, which made her restless and ready to travel.
Bird made her first trip to North America in 1854, when she traveled extensively and authored a book about her experiences titled “The Englishwoman in America.” She later visited Hawaii, Japan, China, India, and Tibet, among other places. She frequently traveled alone, dressed as a male for safety, and made an effort to learn about various cultures and customs.
Bird wrote a number of novels about her trips that were extensively read and praised. Her writing was notable for its evocative depictions of people, places, and landscapes, as well as insights into the social and cultural circumstances of the locations she visited.
Isabella Bird’s pioneering spirit, her adventurousness, and her love of travel continue to inspire women today. She challenged traditional standards and broke through barriers, proving that women could be daring explorers and adventurers.
5. Mary Kingsley
Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was a late-nineteenth-century English ethnographer, explorer, and writer who journeyed to West Africa. She was born in London and reared in a traveling and writing household. Following her parents’ deaths, Kingsley proceeded on a tour to West Africa to collect specimens for the British Museum.
Kingsley explored West Africa extensively, frequently alone and on foot, learning local customs and civilizations. She produced several significant discoveries, including a previously unknown species of fish and a previously unknown tribe, and her travel writings, such as “Travels in West Africa” and “West African Studies,” are considered travel literary classics.
Kingsley was known for her independence, bravery, and unwavering desire to explore and learn about the areas she went. She was also an advocate for African peoples’ rights, and her works influenced Western ideas toward Africa and its people.
Mary Kingsley’s contributions to ethnography and travel literature, as well as her pioneering spirit and social justice crusade, continue to inspire women today. She pushed down barriers and challenged gender norms, demonstrating that women can be daring explorers and change agents.
6. Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first African American woman to obtain a pilot’s license. She was born in Atlanta, Texas, and grew up in a sharecropper household. Coleman was motivated to pursue her passion for flying despite discrimination and restricted possibilities.
Coleman came to France to study aviation after being unable to find a flight school in the United States that would accept her. In 1921, she became the first African American woman and the first Native American woman to obtain a pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Coleman returned to the United States and went on to become a well-known and famous stunt pilot, appearing in air shows and inspiring other Black Americans to pursue careers in aviation. She was also a civil rights activist who used her platform as a pilot to speak out against racial discrimination.
Coleman tragically perished in a plane crash in 1926 while preparing for an aviation display. Despite her brief career, Bessie Coleman’s legacy as an aviation pioneer and a role model for women and people of color continues to inspire future generations. She demonstrated that with drive and perseverance, boundaries can be overcome and aspirations may be realized.
7. Alexandra David-Neel
Alexandra David-Neel (1868-1969) was a Belgian-French explorer, writer, and Buddhist who spent most of the early twentieth century traveling throughout Asia. She was born in Belgium and spent her childhood in France, where she studied music, literature, and philosophy.
David-Neel first visited India in 1911, then went on to explore Tibet, China, Mongolia, and other Asian countries. Her independence, capacity to adapt to different customs and cultures, and great interest in Buddhism and spirituality made her stand out.
David-Neel became the first Western lady to enter Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, disguised as a beggar in 1924. She studied Tibetan language and culture with Tibetan monks and intellectuals, and she wrote extensively about her experiences in various books, including “My Trip to Lhasa” and “Magic and Mystery in Tibet.”
David-Neel was a trailblazer during a time when women’s roles in society were limited, and her accomplishments as an explorer, writer, and scholar continue to inspire women all around the world. She challenged gender norms and broke down barriers, demonstrating that women can be daring explorers and spiritual seekers.
8. Junko Tabei
Tabei was the first woman to reach the top of Mount Everest as part of an all-female expedition in 1975. She went on to climb all seven of the Seven Summits, the highest summits on each of the seven continents, and became a notable environmental champion.
Tabei was famous for her tenacity, bravery, and dedication to breaking down gender barriers in climbing. Being a woman in a male-dominated sport, she experienced discrimination and prejudice, but she persevered and inspired many other women to try mountaineering.
Junko Tabei’s mountaineering accomplishments and environmental conservation efforts continue to inspire women and people all across the world. She pushed down barriers and challenged gender stereotypes, demonstrating that women can be daring explorers and environmental champions.
9. Annie Smith Peck
Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935) was an American mountaineer, writer, and suffragist who scaled many of South America’s highest peaks. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and grew up in an educational household. Peck attended the University of Michigan before going on to study at the Sorbonne in France.
Peck began mountain climbing in her 40s and went on to conquer many of South America’s highest peaks, including several in Peru and Chile. She became well-known for her daring ascents and dedication to women’s rights. She advocated for women’s suffrage and utilized her mountaineering accomplishments to show that women could achieve great things.
Peck was also a prolific writer, having written several books about her climbing adventures, including “A Quest for the Pinnacle of America,” describing her attempts to climb Peru’s highest mountain.
Annie Smith Peck’s mountaineering accomplishments and fight for women’s rights continue to inspire women all across the world. She challenged gender stereotypes and smashed through boundaries, demonstrating that women can be fearless explorers and powerful champions for social change.
10. Freya Stark
Freya Stark (1893-1993) was a British explorer and writer who spent most of the twentieth century traveling throughout the Middle East. She was born in Paris, France, and grew up in an artistic and musical family. Stark studied Arabic and Persian at the London School of Oriental Studies before working as a diplomat in the Middle East.
Stark rose to prominence through her travel writing, which detailed her travels to distant and often perilous areas of the Middle East. Her independence, determination, and ability to immerse oneself in various cultures and customs made her stand out.
Stark wrote several novels about her travels, including “The Valley of the Assassins,” about her voyage through a desolate valley in Iran, and “The Southern Gates of Arabia,” about her adventures in Yemen. Her writing was notable for its evocative depictions of people, places, and landscapes, as well as insights into the social and cultural circumstances of the locations she visited.
Freya Stark’s accomplishments as an explorer and author continue to inspire women all across the world. She broke down boundaries and challenged gender stereotypes, demonstrating that women can be brave explorers and powerful champions for cultural understanding and exchange.
11. Nellie Bly
Nellie Bly (1864-1922) was an American journalist, businessman, inventor, and humanitarian who made substantial contributions to a variety of fields in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman was born in Pennsylvania and began her career as a journalist at the age of 20 when she began writing for a local newspaper.
Bly rose to prominence through her investigative reporting, which frequently required traveling undercover to expose social injustice and corruption. In 1887, she pretended to be a patient in an insane asylum in order to expose patient mistreatment, which resulted in substantial reforms in the mental health system. She later broke the record set by Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg by traveling around the world in 72 days.
Bly was also a businesswoman and entrepreneur, with multiple patents for her innovations. She established a steel barrel manufacturing company and was also involved in the design and building of a successful industrial plant.
Bly was a trailblazer in a time when women’s roles in society were limited, and her accomplishments as a writer, inventor, and industrialist continue to inspire women today. She pushed down barriers and challenged gender stereotypes, demonstrating that women can be daring explorers and imaginative business owners.
12. Jeanne Baret
Jeanne Baret (1740-1807) was a French adventurer and botanist who pretended to be a man in order to join a scientific journey to the Pacific. She was born in the French area of Burgundy and developed an early interest in botany.
Baret joined an expedition headed by French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville to explore the Pacific and collect botanical specimens in 1766. Baret posed as a guy and went by the name “Jean Baret.” During the journey, she assisted Bougainville and collected hundreds of plant specimens.
During the voyage, Baret’s true gender was uncovered, and she experienced discrimination and derision from her male coworkers. She did, however, continue to contribute to the scientific work of the trip and became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
Baret returned to France after the voyage and continued to work as a botanist. Despite enormous challenges as a woman in science, she made substantial contributions to the study of plant specimens from all over the world.
Jeanne Baret’s accomplishments as an adventurer and botanist continue to inspire women worldwide. She challenged gender stereotypes and broke down boundaries, demonstrating that women could be brave explorers and accomplished scientists.
13. Marianne North
Marianne North (1830-1890) was a British naturalist and botanical artist who traveled extensively throughout the world, painting plant species as she went. She was born in England and showed an early interest in botany and drawing.
North embarked on a journey that would take her to many regions of the world, including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South America, in 1871. She was known for her devotion to her craft and her ability to convey the beauty and complexities of plant species in her paintings.
North’s paintings were displayed at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, and were commended for their scientific accuracy as well as artistic beauty. During her travels, she painted over 800 paintings and left a substantial legacy in the realms of botany and botanical art.
Marianne North’s accomplishments as a naturalist and artist continue to inspire women and people worldwide. She pushed through barriers and defied gender norms, demonstrating that women can be daring explorers and talented artists. Her legacy reminds us of the value of art and science in understanding and enjoying nature.