The California native known as ‘America’s Greatest Female Explorer’ blazed a trail for female travelers more than a century ago.
By Maria De La O / Photos courtesy Library of Congress
“If a woman be fond of travel, if she has love of the strange, the mysterious and the lost, there is nothing that will keep her at home…”
Harriet Chalmers Adams (October 22, 1875–July 17, 1937) was an American explorer, writer and photographer, mainly for National Geographic magazine.
Adams was born in Stockton, California, about halfway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, to Alexander Chalmers and Frances Wilkens. In 1900, Adams went on her first major expedition, a three-year trip around South America with her husband, Franklin Pierce Adams, also of Stockton, during which they visited every country in the region and crossed the Andes on horseback. The New York Times wrote at the time that she “reached 20 frontiers previously unknown to white women.”
Adams also served as a correspondent for Harper’s Magazine in Europe during World War I. She was said to be the only female journalist permitted to visit the trenches.
Though uninterested in the feminist movement as a young explorer, Adams became one of its leaders later in her career. When refused entry to some explorer societies because of her gender, she became the first president of the Society of Woman Geographers. (Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall are past members, and the organization is still active in cities across the country.)
She also spoke out against the injustices committed against indigenous populations. After a visit to Peru, she wrote: “What blessing has European civilization brought to them, which they did not already enjoy?… What have they not suffered in the name of the cross which surmounts the hill?”
In all, Adams is said to have travelled more than a hundred thousand miles, and captivated hundreds of audiences as “America’s greatest woman explorer.” Adams died in Nice, France at age 61. She is buried at the Julia Morgan–designed Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California.
“I’ve never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount; never felt a fear of danger; never lacked courage to protect myself.”
Maria De La O
Magazine editor. Documentary filmmaker. Copy expert. Mother. Traveler. Maria brings it all to the pages of ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
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