Women Traveling: Looking Back We See
By Phyllis Stoller, President
an award winning tour operator for women’s smart tours
Do women travel today for the same reasons
we did 2,000 years ago? For adventure? For charity? For
rebellion? For shopping? For money? For love?
A brief look at a few of the more famous
women adventurers says YES.
The earliest written information about
a woman traveler is that of 4th century Abbess of Egeria,
who traveled with her Bible as a guidebook. In the 1500’s
women masqueraded as Conquistadors (with all that gold).
Later other women were transported overseas by colonial "fathers." In
the 18th century there were eccentrics who escaped boring
lives with the advent of better ships. The 19th century
brought wealthy women leaving husbands and using personal
money to travel.
limited career prospects in the past made their living as
travel writers: Freya Stark (died 1993), Dame Rebecca West
(died 1983) are classic examples. Many consider West’s Black
Lamb and Grey Falcon the best travel book ever written;
West describes firsthand the Nazi incursions into Europe.
Contemporary Jan Morris, who became a woman mid life, turns
out fabulous travelogues from a unique point of view.
A short list of books follows this article.
There were 19th century women in government—alas
not in the U.S. Gertrude Bell (died 1926) escaped Victoriana,
took a First from Oxford, then entered the British Foreign
Service. Bell was a friend of T.E. Lawrence, was respected
as the expert on the Middle East during WWI, and
ultimately drew the borders of modern day Iraq. Bell was
described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty's
Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling
Change and Charity
Angelina Jolie, some famous historical women were known
for progressive/humanitarian ideas. Actress Fanny
Kemble shocked the public with her 1838 book about slavery.
She had married an American planter, seen his plantations,
and not surprisingly divorced him.
fell in love. Birth Control Pioneer, Marie
Stopes, trained as a scientist then followed a crush
to his home in Japan in hopes of marrying him. Jane
Digby (1807-1881) left her noble husband, and after
a series of affairs, settled down with an Arab chief in
Eden was involved with various Afghan prisoners of the
19th century British Forces in India.
century women were shoppers first and foremost. Amelia
Edwards bought Egyptian statues and ancient jewelry—much
of it residing in museums today. Mary
Kingsley moved to W. Africa in 1892 to collect relics
and fetishes. Historically traders brought goods directly
to women adventurers knowing women buy. Not so different
from today’s hawkers in a souk.
Wise words from historical women travelers
ring true in 2015: Lady
Stanhope who lost her luggage in a shipwreck, then re-dressed
in Turkish men’s clothing, tells us when in need to pitch
a tent, excuse yourself, go inside, and use your own
Phyllis Stoller is
President of The
Women’s Travel Group and an avid history buff about
travel, adventure, and women’s issues.