This International Women’s Day, Celebrate Trailblazing Female Polar Explorers Past & Present

March 8, 2018 Amanda Wells

annie-inglis-acacia-johnson

"With open-hearted thanks to the women who forged the challenging path to Antarctica before me. You have enabled my life’s dreams to be fulfilled."
—Annie Inglis, Quark Expedition Guide and Marine Biologist

Photo by Acacia Johnson

It might surprise you to know that brave, innovative women have long played integral roles in our understanding of, and ability to access the polar regions. In honour of International Women's Day, join us in celebrating groundbreaking women in polar exploration—from the nomadic Thule, to early Antarctic explorers, and to the women pushing boundaries in the field today.

Inspirational Women Who Conquered Antarctica

One of the last frontiers—our seventh and least explored continent—has long intrigued and delighted the curious. According to Māori oral history (that of the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand), female Explorer Ui-te-rangiora reached Antarctic waters around 650 AD. Louise Séguin became the first Western woman to visit the Antarctic region in 1773, as she sailed on the Roland alongside Yves Joseph de Kerguelen. 

Women have played an integral role in Antarctic exploration and this International Women’s Day, we celebrate

Ingrid Christensen, First Woman to Set Foot on the 7th Continent

The first woman to actually set foot on the Antarctic continent was Ingrid Christensen, who landed at Scullin Monolith. She was immediately followed by four other female explorers: her daughter, Augusta Sofie Christensen, Lillemor Rachlew, and Solveig Widerøeher. 

Maria Klenova, First Female Geologist Working in Antarctica

Russian and Soviet Marine Geologist Maria Vasilyevna Klenova served as a member of the Council for Antarctic Research of the USSR Academy of Sciences. She spent nearly 30 years conducting research about the Polar regions. Her career in marine geology took off in 1925, when she began her research in the Arctic, in the Barents Sea, Novaya Zemlya, Spitsbergen, and Franz Josef Land. In the late 1940s, she turned her sights to the extreme south and in 1956, Maria set out to map uncharted areas of the Antarctic coast. Her contributions helped to produce the first Antarctic atlas. 

Fun Fact: 3 in 7 Expedition Leaders with Quark are women!

Science in Antarctica has provided great insights into some aspects of the natural world, including (but not limited to) the ozone layer and historic concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air. Antarctic science was also the catalyst for one of the most impressive international treaties; The Antarctic Treaty.

This month, I visited Palmer Station, the US Scientific Base on Anvers Island, where I met their impressive Station Manager, Rebecca Shoop. She led with kindness to her team and a passion for science; she clearly has a sharp analytical mind and superior logistics, administrative and communication skills. I was inspired to meet Rebecca and her team of scientists (male and female), and to see the impressive work they are doing in Antarctica to help us understand how to protect and conserve this wilderness and the oceans beyond.”

—Alison Kirk-Lauritsen, Quark Expeditions Leader & Quark Academy Trainer

Ann Chapman, First Female Antarctic Expedition Leader

In 1971, New Zealand Limnologist Ann Chapman lead a three-week biological survey of the frozen lakes in the Taylor Valley, making her the first woman to lead an Antarctic expedition. Lake Chapman, in Antarctica's Ross Sea Dependency, bears her name.

Photo by Acacia Johnson

I count myself incredibly privileged to be working in a time where women are not only accepted but sometimes even operate as a majority of the expedition staff. We stand in that position because of the women who pushed their way in and fought for the right to be included in polar exploration.

While we recognize and feel grateful for that effort, we also acknowledge that the journey is not over yet. A majority of the female staff experience a cultural subconscious—or conscious!—gender bias regarding our roles. For example, we still find many people that are surprised that women are driving zodiacs, and sometimes attempt to refuse to ride with us, or don't believe we are capable of fixing the engine or problems. Yet every time we drive, every dinner conversation we have, every time we and our male counterparts demonstrate the even distribution of work, we are changing people’s minds.

We are not only creating Antarctic ambassadors but shifting viewpoints on gender and what women are capable of.

—Aven King, Quark Expeditions Guide & Astrophysicist 

Check out the #WomenofAntarctica photo series on Instagram

 

Felicity Aston, First Woman to Cross Antarctica Solo

Felicity Aston knew she was at risk of becoming hypothermic when she smelled fish and chips on the stark, frozen Antarctica. The realization that she’d begun hallucinating motivated Aston to keep pushing, and she did—all the way across the 7th continent. In 2012, she became the first woman to cross Antarctica alone, and the first person to do it using only her own muscle power. Earlier, between 2000 to 2003, she served as a senior meteorologist on Adelaide Island, at the Rothera Research Station operated by the British Antarctic Survey. 

Inspirational Women Who Conquered the Arctic

At the other end of the planet, across the Arctic’s many islands and the far northern regions of Canada and Russia, Thule and Inuit roamed. Unlike completely uninhabited Antarctica, the inhospitable Arctic somehow supported tenacious Inuit for thousands of years. Generations of women raised their families, built homes, hunted and charted the migratory paths of Arctic animals long before the first Europeans set their sights on the far north. 

Over the last several hundreds of years, courageous explorers have set out to investigate, document and experience the Arctic's sprawling, wild landscapes. These adventurous women couldn’t resist the Arctic’s allure.

Louise Arner Boyd, First Woman to Fly Over the North Pole

1920s journalists called her ‘The Girl Who Tamed the Arctic,’ thanks to her escapades in the far north aboard the Hobby, previously sailed by famed explorer Roald Amundsen. Throughout the 1930s, Boyd explored the rugged, wild east and north coasts of Greenland, studying their fascinating culture and wildlife en route. Though her accomplishments and accolades were many, Louise is perhaps best known as the first woman to fly over the North Pole—a feat she achieved in 1955.

Fun Fact: Today, women make up 48% of Quark’s Expedition Team!

The communities of women aboard our ships are full of remarkable, diverse, inspiring role-models of all ages and backgrounds. Being part of this community, united by our love for the Polar Regions and by working in the field, I feel at home with who I am and what I do—and wholly equal with our male colleagues, as well, who must not go unmentioned for their boundless support and camaraderie.

—Acacia Johnson, Quark Expeditions Guide & Photographer

Get your Arctic Expedition brochures

 

Caroline Hamilton, Organizer of the First All-Women North Pole Expedition

After listening to her boyfriend describe what it had been like skiing to the North Pole, UK Film Financier Caroline Hamilton decided that anything he could do, she could do, too. In order to drum up the funds for her expedition, Caroline organized the first all-female North Pole expedition. Over 200 women responded to an ad she had placed in the newspaper; 60 faced physical tryouts, and 20 amateur adventurers eventually joined her history-making expedition in 1997.

 

Jaymie MacAulay, Quark Expeditions Coordinator, has guided on over 40 expeditions in the polar regions (Acacia Johnson Instagram).

 

Check out the #WomenofAntarctica photo series on Instagram

 

Josée Auclair, Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge Co-founder

The call of the Arctic runs deep in Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge Co-founder Josée Auclair’s blood. It’s a passion she shares with husband, Lodge Co-founder and Explorer Richard Weber, and their two sons Tessum and Nansen. 

Josee Auclair - Arctic Watch

Josée Auclair, Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge Co-founder (Photo by Arctic Watch)

Life at Arctic Watch, on Somerset Island in the Canadian Arctic, is a family affair enriched by the leadership of intrepid matriarch Auclair. She’s led multiple trailblazing treks to the North and South Poles and, from 1999 to 2004, led and conducted annual treks covering the last degree to the North Pole. Josée led Woman Quest; an all-woman trek to the North Pole in 2001, and guided an all-woman trek covering the last degree to the South Pole in 2007. 

Josée has been exploring the Arctic and pushing its boundaries since 1988. Today, you can meet her along with Richard, Tessum and Nansen on your Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge expedition.

 

Get the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge: Adventure and Wildlife at 74°N brochure

 

Celebrate International Women’s Day, 2018

You can participate in the conversations around International Women’s Day 2018 on the #pressforprogress hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There are many different ways you can take action to support gender equality, from celebrating women’s achievements to becoming a role model for inclusivity in all that you do. For more information, visit the International Women’s Day website.

About the Author

Amanda Wells

Amanda is Director of Marketing at Quark Expeditions, a recent MBA grad, and a practitioner of positive psychology. In addition to her passion for travel, Amanda brings to Quark her belief that travel helps people push their growth boundaries, both literally and figuratively, and is always looking to connect with like-minded individuals.

Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn here.

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