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9 trailblazing female explorers

By: Matt Hickman on Oct. 24, 2016, 12:17 p.m.
Isabella Bird in a Manchurian gown

Photo: G.P. Putnam's Sons/Public domain

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Isabella Bird (1831-1904)

You could say the life of perpetually on-the-move socialite turned globetrotting adventurer turned missionary Isabella Bird served as one big, eye-opening geography lesson for Victorian England. It’s only fitting, then, that after decades of bouncing from continent to continent, Bird became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society in 1872.

We won’t list all the remote corners of the globe that the author of “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” visited during her action-packed life, but a handful of Bird’s most remarkable feats are worth mentioning. She scaled Hawaii’s volcanic peaks, traveled hundreds of miles down China’s Yangtze River, lived among the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido and tamed a one-eyed mountain man known as Rocky Mountain Jim.

Although Bird thrust herself into many uncomfortable — and at times, perilous — situations and disregarded the restrictive societal bounds of Victorian femininity, she was still very much a lady. To that end, she refused to divulge whether her relationship with her hirsute hiking companion in the Colorado Rockies was ever anything more than platonic. Today, Bird’s adventurous and uncompromising spirit lives on not only in her published letters but in a line of crinkled tunics and smocked dresses.