1740–1807 When it comes to the “girl dresses up as a guy to have a daring life of adventure” trope, Jeanne Baré was the real deal. Well-educated in her youth, as an adult Jeanne took on work as a housekeeper for and caregiver to the naturalist Philibert Commerçon; after his wife died, Jeanne became pregnant with his child. When asked to join Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s oceanic expedition, sickly Philibert didn’t want to miss out because of illness. So Jeanne dressed up as a dude and went along as his valet and assistant. The two were given private chambers to accommodate Philibert’s equipment, allowing Jeanne to maintain the ruse—a ruse that saw her become the first woman to travel around the world, even if she did it in drag. When the ship reached Uruguay and Brazil, Philibert was so sick that Jeanne did much of the botany work herself. Her disguise was eventually discovered by some savvy Tahitians, but by then it was too late. Jeanne continued on with the journey, botanizin’ and sailin’ all ’round the world.
1788–1812 (1884?) A member of the Agaidika tribe of the Lemhi Shoshone in Idaho, at age twelve Sacagawea was captured in battle by a rival tribe, then sold and forcibly married to a French-Canadian trapper. Her husband was the one the Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would hire in 1804 as an interpreter on their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, but it was Sacagawea and her knowledge of Shoshone that proved invaluable. As an interpreter and cultural liaison, she was brave from the start, rescuing capsized boats, bartering trade negotiations between tribes, scavenging for food—all while hefting a baby around on her back. Thanks to her instrumental role, the expedition made it across the thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean. After her famous journey, Sacagawea settled in Missouri with her husband and two children, though some believe she returned to her original tribe and lived to be nearly one hundred years old. Either way, she had an amazing life and served as an inspiration to women activists in the early twentieth century as the fight for women’s suffrage began.
1857–1905 Bored with life as a rich Victorian lady of leisure (because who wouldn’t be?), a twenty-one-year-old British noblewoman named Florence Dixie left behind what she called “the shallow artificiality of modern existence” in 1878, when she took off for Chile, Argentina, and Brazil on a voyage with her family. After returning to England, she was so jazzed about everything she’d seen and done that she published a book about her experiences, which eventually spurred a correspondence between her and one Charles Darwin (she needed to correct him on something, obviously). Florence’s book also nabbed her the ground-breaking position as war correspondent in South Africa during the first Boer War, proving women’s capabilities on the field as explorers and as journalists to boot. Florence believed that men and women should wear the same clothes, be given the same opportunities for jobs and education, and have the same rights in marriage, divorce, sexuality, custody, reproduction, bodily autonomy, and inheritance. She later went on to write fiction, including Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900, which imagines London in 1999 as a feminist utopia run entirely by women. If only, Florence. If only.
1862–1945 The child of a university president and a women’s rights activist, Florence Bascom was destined for some groundbreaking business from the start. She had garnered three bachelor’s degrees by age twenty-two, earned a master’s three years after that, and became the first woman to get a PhD from Johns Hopkins by thirty-one (though in class she had to sit behind a screen so as not to disturb the male students’ delicate sensibilities). Florence taught at colleges and universities across the United States before founding the Department of Geology at Bryn Mawr College, where she trained the first American women geologists. In 1894 she became the second woman ever allowed into the Geological Society of America; two years later she smashed barriers again when she was hired by the U.S. Geological Survey—first woman there, too. Her own research—on crystalline rocks in Appalachia—continues to influence geology to this day.
1864–1922 The daughter of an Irish immigrant, Elizabeth Cochran had to drop out of boarding school as a girl because she didn’t have enough money to pay room and board. Fortunately, her first success came soon after: at age sixteen, she wrote a passionate smack-down in response to a disgustingly misogynist article in the Pittsburgh Dispatch titled “What Girls Are Good For” (spoiler: not much, according to them). After landing a full-time job in journalism at The World, “Nellie” (a pseudonym, since at the time it was unseemly for women to publish their own writing) moved to New York and wrote about women’s issues, even going undercover at the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum to report on their mistreatment of female patients. She became most famous for taking up the Around the World in 80 Days fad in 1889 and journeying around the globe in just seventy-two, passing through and reporting on England, France, Italy, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. By ship or by rail, Nellie traveled alone for nearly the entire trip and earned international renown for her voyage. She was an incredible investigative journalist (doing everything from exposing the abuse of the press in Mexico to joining a marching band), a fierce suffragette, and went on to marry a millionaire.
GRACE MARGUERITE HAY DRUMMOND-HAY
1895–1946 At just twenty years old, Liverpool-born Grace Drummond-Hay was married off to a hecka-rich seventy-four-year-old man. Kind of a bummer for a young and curious gal—except that her husband died just six years later, leaving Grace a rich (and still young) widow. A talented writer, she landed a job as a reporter for Hearst newspapers and rose to fame as the only female passenger of the first ’round-the-world zeppelin journey, which made stops in New Jersey, Germany, Tokyo, and Los Angeles. Despite her instant fame upon landing, Grace kept her ego in check and continued to work as a journalist for the rest of her life, including stints as a war correspondent in Ethiopia and China. She remained incredibly well respected right up until she died following internment in a Japanese POW camp in Manila during World War II.
1897–DISAPPEARED 1937 After working for several years in Toronto with the Red Cross, Amelia Earhart attended the 1919 Canadian National Exposition, where she watched a plane dive at her during a flying exhibition. The next year her father spent $10 for her to go up in a ten-minute flight with an air racer, and that’s when Amelia knew she had found her passion. She worked her butt off to afford flying lessons and her very own biplane, and in 1923 she became only the sixteenth woman to get a pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (just like Bessie Coleman!). Three years later, Amelia was asked to be the log-keeper on a transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Wales, making her the first woman to undertake that journey (which she would make again, solo, in 1932). On the ground, Amelia got real famous, real fast: she published a book, gave lectures, endorsed products, and even worked as an editor at Cosmopolitan before disappearing into the sunset while attempting a flight around the world in 1937. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “She helped the cause of women by giving them a feeling that there was nothing they could not do.”