Saturday, March 31, 2012

Harriet Chalmers Adams ~ Explorer

Harriet Chalmers Adams (October 22, 1875 – July 17, 1937) was an American explorer, writer and photographer. She travelled extensively in South America, Asia and the South Pacific in the early 20th century, and published accounts of her journeys in the National Geographic magazine. She lectured frequently on her travels and illustrated her talks with color slides and movies.

In 1904, she undertook her first major expedition, a three-year trip around South America with her husband, Franklin Adams, during which they visited every country, and traversed the Andes on horseback. The New York Times wrote that she "reached twenty frontiers previously unknown to white women."

In a later trip she retraced the trail of Christopher Columbus’ early discoveries in the Americas, and crossed Haiti on horseback.

Harriet served as a correspondent for Harper's Magazine in Europe during World War I. Later she and her husband visited eastern Bolivia during a second extended trip to South America.

From 1907 to 1935, she wrote 21 articles for the National Geographic Society that featured her photographs, including "Some Wonderful Sights in the Andean Highlands" (September 1908), "Kaleidoscopic La Paz: City of the Clouds" (February 1909) and "River-Encircled Paraguay" (April 1933). She wrote on Trinidad, Surinam, Bolivia, Peru and the trans-Andean railroad between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso.

Harriet in the Gobi Desert
In her day, the National Geographical Society did not allow women as full members, so in 1925, she helped launch the Society of Woman Geographers, and served as its first president until 1933.

In all, she is said to have travelled more than a hundred thousand miles, and captivated hundreds of audiences. The New York Times wrote, "Harriet Chalmers Adams is America's greatest woman explorer. As a lecturer no one, man or woman, has a more magnetic hold over an audience than she."

Harriet died in Nice, France, in 1937, at age 62. An obituary in the Washington Post called her a "confidant of savage head hunters" who never stopped wandering the remote corners of the world. She is interred at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, CA. Of women as adventurers, she wrote:

"I've wondered why men have so absolutely monopolized the field of exploration. Why did women never go to the Arctic, try for one pole or the other, or invade Africa,Thibet, or unknown wildernesses? 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. I’ve been in tight places and have seen harrowing things."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Florence Von Sass Baker

While British explorer Samuel Baker was visiting the Duke of Atholl on his shooting estate in Scotland, he befriended Maharaja Duleep Singh and in 1858–1859, the two partnered an extensive hunting trip in central Europe and the Balkans, via Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. On the last part of the voyage, Baker and the Maharajah hired a wooden boat in Budapest, which was eventually abandoned on the frozen Danube. The two continued into Vidin where, to amuse the Maharajah, Baker went to the Vidin slave market.

There, Baker fell in love with a white slave girl, destined for the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin. He was outbid by the Pasha but bribed the girl's attendants and they ran away in a carriage together. Eventually she became his lover and wife and accompanied him everywhere he journeyed. They are reported to have married, most probably in Bucharest, before going to Dubrushka, but Sir Samuel certainly promised that they would go through another ceremony on their return to England - where they had a family wedding in 1865.

The story handed down in the Baker family is that she was the daughter of a Hungarian Szekely officer of a German aristocratic family, who had great estates in Romania, called von Sas (a branch of the von Sass family) and at some time, while she was very young, during the terrible uprising and revolution of 1848 "her father and brothers had been killed before her eyes".

She spoke initially Hungarian, Romanian, German and Turk. She was officially born August 6, 1841 (but more probably 1845) in Nagyenyed, Austrian Empire (today Aiud, Romania) and was baptised Florenz Barbara Maria. She said that her nurse helped her to a refugee camp in Vidin, Bulgaria. Possibly it was there that she was adopted by an Armenian family with name Finnian (or Finnin). Her nurse married and left her, probably during the first Amnesty of 1857. Later she was abducted and sold to an Armenian slave merchant, who groomed her for the Harem.

Baker and the girl fled to Bucharest and remained in Romania, Baker applying for the position of British Consul there but he was refused. In Constanta, he acted as the Royal Superintendent for the construction of a railway and bridges across the Dobroqea, connecting the Danube with the Black Sea. After its completion he spent some months on a tour in south-eastern Europe and Asia Minor. The new consul issued Baker's companion with a British passport under the name Florence Barbara Maria Finnian, although she was British neither by birth nor yet by marriage. She was affectionately called "Flooey" by Baker and later nicknamed Anyadwe or Daughter of the Moon in what is now northern Uganda by the Luo-speaking Acholi natives, who prized her long blonde hair.

Florence refused to stay home, instead following her husband in his travels. She spoke English, Turk and Arabic, rode camels, mules and horses and carried pistols when in the wilds.

She died on March 11, 1916 at the estate she had shared with her husband in Sandford Orleigh, Devon. She was 74 years old and was buried with her husband, who died 23 years earlier, in the Baker family vault at Grimley, near Worcester, although her name was never recorded.

It is possible that the story of how Samuel Baker met his future second wife and her origin were romanticised by him and adapted to the expectations of Victorian society. (A rescue of an exotic princess by a brave white gentleman was a favorite plot of contemporary colonial novels.) Similarly, Florence Baker is on all drawings from Africa depicted in a conventional Victorian lady's dress but in Africa she used to wear an outfit almost identical to the one her husband had designed for himself.

Although Sir Samuel and Lady Baker were personally charming enough to conquer most of Victorian society, Queen Victoria refused to receive Florence at court since she believed Baker had been "intimate with his wife before marriage", as indeed he had. Confusingly, Lady Baker is in Hungarian sources known as Sass (or Szász) Flóra, and Florica Maria Sas in the Romanian sources.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jeanne Baret ~ Explorer & Circumnavigator

Jeanne Baret (sometimes spelled Baré or Barret) (July 27, 1740 – August 5, 1807) was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition on the ships La Boudeuse and Etoile in 1766–1769 and is recognized as the first woman to have completed a voyage of circumnavigation.

Shortly before Bougainville’s ships sailed from France, she joined the expedition disguised as Jean Baret, a male valet and assistant to the expedition's naturalist, Philibert Commercon (anglicized as Commerson). According to Bougainville's account, Baret was herself an expert botanist.

Jeanne was born in the village of La Comelle in the Burgundy region of France. Her record of baptism survives and identifies her as the legitimate issue of Jean Baret and Jeanne Pochard. Her father is identified as a day laborer, and seems likely to have been illiterate as he did not sign the parish register.

Nothing definitive is known of her childhood or young adulthood. She later told Bougainville that she had been orphaned and lost her fortune in a lawsuit before taking to disguising herself as a man. While she might well have been an orphan given the low life expectancies of the time, historians agree that other details of the story she gave Bougainville were a fabrication to shield Commerson from complicity in her disguise. Burgundy was at this time one of the more backward provinces of France in terms of the condition of the peasant classes, and it is likely that Baret's family were quite impoverished.

One of the mysteries of Jeanne’s life is how she obtained at least the rudiments of an education, as her signature on later legal documents provides evidence that she was not illiterate. One of her biographers, Glynis Ridley, suggests that her mother may have been of Huguenot extraction, a group that had a higher tradition of literacy than was otherwise typical of the peasant classes of the time. Another biographer, John Dunmore, suggests that she may have been taught by the parish priest or taken on as a charity case by a member of the local gentry.

Philibert Commercon
At some point between 1760 and 1764, she became employed as housekeeper to Commerson, who had settled in Toulon-sur-Arroux, some 20 km to the south of La Comelle, upon his marriage in 1760. Commerson's wife, who was the sister of the parish priest, died shortly after giving birth to a son in April, 1762 and it seems most likely that Jeanne took over management of Commerson's household at that time, if not before.

It is also evident that Jeanne and Commerson shared a more personal relationship, as she became pregnant in 1764. French law at that time required women who became pregnant out of wedlock to obtain a "certificate of pregnancy" in which they could name the father of their unborn child. Jeanne’s certificate from August 1764 survives; it was filed in a town 30 km away, and witnessed by two men of substance who likewise had travelled a considerable distance from their homes. She refused to name the father of her child, but historians do not doubt that it was Commerson, and that it was Commerson who had also made the arrangements with the lawyer and witnesses on her behalf.

Shortly afterwards she and Commerson moved together to Paris, where she continued in the role of his housekeeper. She apparently changed her name to "Jeanne de Bonnefoy" during this period. Her child, born in December 1764, was given the name Jean-Pierre Baret. The child was given up to the Paris Foundlings Hospital and was quickly placed with a foster mother, but died in the summer of 1765. (Commerson had left his legitimate son from his marriage in the care of his brother-in-law in Toulon-sur-Arroux, and never saw him again in his lifetime.)

La Boudeuse
In 1765, Commerson was invited to join Bougainville's expedition. He hesitated in accepting because he was often in poor health; he required Jeanne’s assistance as a nurse as well as in running his household and managing his collections and papers. His appointment allowed him a servant, paid as a royal expense, but women were completely prohibited on French navy ships at this time. At some point the idea of Jeanne disguising herself as a man in order to accompany Commerson was conceived. To avoid scrutiny, she was to join the expedition immediately before the ship sailed, pretending to be a stranger to Commerson.

Before leaving Paris, Commerson drew up a will in which he left to "Jeanne Baret, known as de Bonnefoi, my housekeeper", a lump sum of 600 livres along with back wages owed and the furnishings of their Paris apartment. Thus, while the story Jeanne concocted for Bougainville's benefit to explain her presence on board ship was carefully designed to shield Commerson from involvement, there is clear documentary evidence of their previous relationship, and it is highly improbable that Commerson was not complicit in the plan himself.

Jeanne and Commerson joined the Bougainville expedition at the port of Rochefort in late December, 1766. They were assigned to sail on the store ship, the Étoile. Because of the vast quantity of equipment Commerson was bringing on the voyage, the ship's captain, François Chesnard de la Giraudais, gave up his own large cabin on the ship to Commerson and his "assistant". This gave Jeanne significantly more privacy than she would have had otherwise on board the crowded ship. In particular, the captain's cabin gave her access to private toilet facilities so that she did not have to use the shared head like other members of the crew.

In addition to Bougainville's published account, Jeanne’s story includes three other surviving memoirs of the expedition: A journal kept jointly by Commerson and Pierre Duclos-Guyot; a journal by the Prince of Nassau-Siegen, a paying passenger on the Boudeuse; and a memoir by François Vivès, surgeon on the Étoile. Vivès has the most to say about her, but his memoir is problematical because he and Commerson were on bad terms throughout the voyage and his account – largely written or revised after the fact – is full of innuendo and spiteful comments directed at both Commerson and Jeanne.

Commerson suffered badly from both seasickness and a recurring ulcer on his leg in the early part of the voyage and Jeanne probably spent most of her time attending to him. Aside from the ceremony of "crossing the line", which Commerson described in some detail in his memoir, there was little for the botanists to do until the Étoile reached Montevideo. There they set out on expeditions to the surrounding plains and mountains. Commerson's leg was still troubling him and Jeanne seems to have done much of the actual labor, carrying supplies and specimens. In Rio de Janeiro – a much more dangerous place, where the Étoile's chaplain was murdered ashore soon after their arrival – Commerson was officially confined to the ship while his leg healed, but they nonetheless collected specimens of a flowering vine which he named Bougainvillea.

After a second visit to Montevideo, their next opportunity to botanize was in Patagonia while the ships of the expedition were waiting for favorable winds to carry them through the Strait of Magellan. Here Jeanne accompanied Commerson on the most troublesome excursions over rugged terrain and gained a reputation for courage and strength. Commerson, still hampered by his leg injury, referred to her as his "beast of burden" on these expeditions. In addition to the manual labor she performed in collecting plants, stones, and shells, she also helped Commerson organize and catalog their specimens and notes in the weeks that followed, as the ships entered the Pacific.

Surviving accounts of the expedition differ on when Jeanne’s true sex was first discovered. According to Bougainville, rumors that she was a woman had circulated for some time, but her sex was not finally confirmed until the expedition reached Tahiti in April 1768. As soon as she and Commerson landed on shore to botanize, she was immediately surrounded by Tahitians who cried out that she was a woman. It was necessary to return her to the ship to protect her from the excited Tahitians. Bougainville recorded this incident in his journal some weeks after it happened, when he had an opportunity to visit the Étoile to interview Jeanne personally.
‘Yesterday I checked on board the Étoile a rather peculiar event. For some time, a rumour had been circulating on the two ships that Mr de Commerçon’s servant, named Baré, was a woman. His structure, his caution in never changing his clothes or carrying out any natural function in the presence of anyone, the sound of his voice, his beardless chin, and several other indications had given rise to this suspicion and reinforced it’ (De Bougainville’s Journal, 28–29 May 1768).
Vivès also reports much speculation about Jeanne’s sex early in the voyage, and asserts that she claimed to be a eunuch when confronted directly by La Giraudais (whose own official log has not survived). Bougainville's account of her unmasking on Tahiti is not corroborated by the other journalists, although Vivès describes a similar incident in which she was immediately pointed out as a woman by the Tahitian Ahu-toru on board the ship. Ahu-toru travelled back to France with the expedition and was subsequently questioned at some length about this. (Modern scholars now believe that Ahu-toru actually thought that Jeanne was a transvestite, or mahu.)  Vivès also describes a different incident on New Ireland in mid-July in which she was caught off-guard, stripped, and "examined" by a group of other servants on the expedition. Duclos-Guyot and Nassau-Siegen also recorded that Jeanne had been discovered to be a woman on New Ireland, but without mentioning details.

After crossing the Pacific, the expedition was desperately short of food. After a brief stop for supplies in the Dutch East Indies, the ships made a longer stop at the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. This island, also known as Île de France, was then an important French trading station. Commerson was delighted to find that his old friend and fellow botanist Pierre Poivre was serving as governor on the island, and Commerson and Jeanne remained behind as Poivre's guests. Probably Bougainville also actively encouraged this arrangement as it allowed him to rid himself of the problem of a woman illegally on board his expedition.

On Mauritius, Jeanne continued in her role as Commerson's assistant and housekeeper. It is likely that she accompanied him to botanize on Madagascar and Bourbon Island in 1770-1772. Commerson continued to have serious health problems and he died on Mauritius in February, 1773. His financial resources on the island had dwindled, his patron Poivre had been recalled to Paris, and Jeanne was left without the means to immediately return to France to claim the money due her from Commerson's will.

After Commerson's death, she seems to have found work running a tavern in Port Louis for a time. Then, on 17 May 1774, she married Jean Dubernat, a non-commissioned officer in the French Army who was most likely on the island on his way home to France. There is no record of exactly when Jeanne and her husband arrived in France, thus completing her voyage of circumnavigation. Most likely it was sometime in 1775. In April 1776, she received the money that was due to her under Commerson's will after applying directly to the Attorney General. With this money, she settled with Dubernat in his native village of Saint-Aulaye where he may have set up as a blacksmith.

In 1785, Jeanne was granted a pension of 200 livres a year by the Ministry of Marine. The document granting her this pension makes clear the high regard with which she was held by this point:

Jeanne Barré, by means of a disguise, circumnavigated the globe on one of the vessels commanded by Mr de Bougainville. She devoted herself in particular to assisting Mr de Commerson, doctor and botanist, and shared with great courage the labours and dangers of this savant. Her behaviour was exemplary and Mr de Bougainville refers to it with all due credit.... His Lordship has been gracious enough to grant to this extraordinary woman a pension of two hundred livres a year to be drawn from the fund for invalid servicemen and this pension shall be payable from 1 January 1785.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell ~ Archaeologist, Explorer & Spy

Renowned as the
"Uncrowned Queen of Iraq"
"Oh Hafiz, seeking an end to strife,
Hold fast in thy mind what the wise have writ:
"If at last thou attain the desire of thy life,
Cast the world aside, yea, abandon in!"

~ Hafez Shirazi poem translated by Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (July 14, 1868 – July 12, 1926) was an English writer, traveler, political officer, administrator, archaeologist and spy who explored, mapped and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her extensive travels in Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Arabia. Along with T.E. Lawrence, she helped establish the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as in Iraq. She played a major role in establishing and helping administer the modern state of Iraq, utilizing her unique perspective from her travels and relations with tribal leaders throughout the Middle East. During her lifetime she was highly esteemed and trusted by British officials and given an immense amount of power for a woman at the time. She has also been described as "one of the few representatives of His Majesty's Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection".

Born in Washington Hall, County Durham, England (now known as Dame Margaret Hall) to a family whose wealth enabled her travels, she is described as having "reddish hair and piercing blue-green eyes, with her mother's bow shaped lips and rounded chin, her father’s oval face and pointed nose". Her personality was characterized by energy, intellect and a thirst for adventure which shaped her path in life. Her grandfather was Isaac Sir Lowthian Bell, an industrialist and a Liberal Member of Parliament, in Benjamin Disraeli's second term. His role in British policy-making exposed Gertrude at a young age to international matters and most likely encouraged her curiosity for the world, and her later involvement in international politics.

Her mother, Mary Shield Bell, died in 1871 while giving birth to son Maurice. Gertrude was just three at the time, and the death led to a close relationship with her father, Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet, who was three times mayor of Middlesbrough, High Sheriff of Durham 1895, Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant of County Durham, Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire. Throughout her life she consulted with him on political matters. Some biographies say the loss of her mother had caused underlying childhood trauma, revealed through periods of depression and risky behavior. At age seven Gertrude acquired a stepmother, Florence Bell, and eventually, three half-siblings. Florence was a playwright and author of children's stories, as well as the author of a study of Bell factory workers. She instilled concepts of duty and decorum in Gertrude and contributed to her intellectual and anti-feminist activities in the Anti-Suffrage League. Her activities with the wives of Bolckow Vaughan ironworkers in Eston, near Middlesbrough, may have helped influence her step-daughter's later stance promoting education of Iraqi women.

Gertrude received her early education from Queen's College in London and then later at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University at age 17. History was one of the few subjects women were allowed to study, due to the many restrictions imposed on them at the time. She specialized in modern history, in which she received a first class honors degree in two years.

Her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, was British minister (similar to ambassador) at Tehran, Persia. In May 1892, after leaving Oxford, she travelled to Persia to visit him and described this journey in her book, Persian Pictures. She spent much of the next decade traveling around the world, mountaineering in Switzerland and developing a passion for archaeology and languages. She had become fluent in Arabic, Persian, French and German and was able to speak Italian and Turkish. In 1899, she again went to the Middle East, visiting Palestine and Syria that year. In 1900, on a trip from Jerusalem to Damascus, she became acquainted with the Druze living in Jabal al-Druze.

Visiting Archaeological Excavations
Babylon, 1909
She traveled across Arabia six times over the next 12 years and published her observations in the book Syria: The Desert and the Sown published in 1907.  In this book she described, photographed and detailed her trip to Greater Syria's towns and cities like Damascus, Jerusalem, Beirut, Antioch and Alexandretta. Her vivid descriptions opened up the Arabian deserts to the western world. In March 1907, she journeyed to the Ottoman Empire and began to work with the archaeologist and New Testament scholar Sir William M. Ramsey. Their excavations were chronicled in A Thousand and One Churches.

In January 1909, Gertrude left for Mesopotamia. She visited the Hittite city of Carchemish, mapped and described the ruin of Ukhaidir and finally went to Babylon and Najaf. Back in Carchemish, she consulted with the two archaeologists on site. One of them was T.E. Lawrence.

Gertrude also became honorary secretary of the British Women's Anti-Suffrage League. Her stated reason for her anti-suffrage stand was that as long as women felt that the kitchen and the bedroom were their only domains, they were truly unprepared to take part in deciding how a nation should be ruled.

At the outbreak of World War I, her request for a Middle East posting was initially denied. She instead volunteered with the Red Cross in France. Later, she was asked by British Intelligence to get soldiers through the deserts, and from the World War I period until her death she was the only woman holding political power and influence in shaping British imperial policy in the Middle East. She often acquired a team of locals which she directed and led on her expeditions. She was the second foreign woman after Lady Anne Blunt to visit Ha'il.

Throughout her travels Gertrude established close relations with tribe members across the Middle East. Additionally, being a woman gave her exclusive access to the chambers of wives of tribe leaders, giving her access to other perspectives and functions. Because both Gertrude and T.E. Lawrence had traveled the desert and established ties with the local tribes and gain unique perspectives of the people and the land prior to World War I, Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth realized the value of their expertise. Both stood hardly 5'5", yet they could ride with great determination and endurance through the desert for hours on end.

She never married nor had children, but had an unconsummated affair with Major Charles Doughty-Wylie, a married man, with whom she exchanged love letters from 1913-1915. Upon his death in 1915 at Gallipoli, Gertrude launched herself into her work. Some say his death affected her for the rest of her life and may have added to a depressive state.

In November 1915, she was summoned to Cairo to the nascent Arab Bureau, headed by General Gilbert Clayton and again met Lawrence. At first she did not receive an official position, but in her first months there, helped Hogarth set about organizing and processing her own, Lawrence's and Capt. W.H.I. Shakespear's data about the location and disposition of Arab tribes that could be encouraged to join the British against the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence and the British used the information in forming alliances with the Arabs.

On 3 March 1916, after hardly a moment's notice, Gen. Clayton sent Gertrude to Basra, which British forces had captured in November 1914, to advise Chief Political Officer Percy Cox regarding an area she knew better than any other Westerner. She drew maps to help the British army reach Baghdad safely and became the only female political officer in the British forces, receiving the title of "Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo" (i.e. to the Arab Bureau where she had been assigned). She was Harry St. John Philby's field controller, and taught him the finer arts of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering.

Her work was specially mentioned in the British Parliament, and she was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Some consider the present troubles in Iraq are derived from the lines Bell helped draw to create its borders. Perhaps so, but Gertrude's reports indicate that problems were foreseen, and that it was clearly understood that there were just not many (if any) permanent solutions for calming the divisive forces at work in that part of the world.

When British troops took Baghdad (March 10, 1917), she was summoned by Cox to Baghdad and given the title of "Oriental Secretary." As the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire was finalized by the end of the war in late January 1919, Gertrude was assigned to conduct an analysis of the situation in Mesopotamia. Due to her familiarity and relations with the tribes in the area she had strong ideas about the leadership needed in Iraq. She spent the next ten months writing what was later considered a masterful official report, "Self Determination in Mesopotamia”. A.T. Wilson, had different ideas of how Iraq should be run, preferring an Arab government to be under the influence of British officials who would retain real control.

On October 11, 1920, Percy Cox returned to Baghdad and asked her to continue as Oriental Secretary, acting as liaison with the forthcoming Arab government. Gertrude essentially played the role of mediator between the Arab government and British officials. She had to often mediate between the various groups of Iraq including a majority population of Shi’as in the southern region, Sunnis in central Iraq, and the Kurds, mostly in the northern region, who wished to be autonomous. Keeping these groups united was essential for political balance in Iraq and for British imperial interests. Iraq not only contained valuable resources in oil but would act as a buffer zone, with the help of Kurds in the north as a standing army in the region to protect against Turkey, Persia (Iran), and Syria. British officials in London, especially Churchill, were highly concerned to cut heavy costs in the colonies, including the cost of quashing tribal infighting. Another important project for both the British and new Iraqi rulers was creating a new identity for these people so that they would identify themselves as one nation.

Gertrude, Cox and Lawrence were among a select group of "Orientalists" convened by Winston Churchill to attend a 1921 Conference in Cairo to determine the boundaries of the British mandate and nascent states such as Iraq. Gertrude is supposed to have described Lawrence as being able "to ignite fires in cold rooms". Throughout the conference, the two worked tirelessly to promote the establishment of the countries of Transjordan and Iraq to be presided over by the Kings Abdullah and Faisal, sons of the instigator of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire (ca. 1915-1916), Hussein bin Ali, Sharif and Emir of Mecca. Until her death in Baghdad, she served in the Iraq British High Commission advisory group there.

Cairo Conference, March 1921
Seated: Winston Churchill (far right), Edmund Marshall (2nd from left)
Standing: Gertrude Bell (far left), Sassoon Eskell (2nd from left)
Jafar Pasha al-Askari (far right)
British officials quickly realized that their strategies in governing were adding to costs. Iraq would be cheaper as a self-governing state. The Cairo Conference of 1921 was held to determine the political and geographic structure of what would become Iraq and the modern Middle East. Significant input was given by Gertrude in these discussions thus she was an essential part of its creation. At the Cairo Conference Gertrude and Lawrence highly recommended Faisal bin Hussein, (the son of Hussein, Sherif of Mecca), former commander of the Arab forces that helped the British during the war and entered Damascus at the culmination of the Arab Revolt. He had been recently deposed by France as King of Syria, and British officials at the Cairo Conference decided to make him the first king of Iraq. They believed that due to his lineage as a Hashemite and his diplomatic skills he would be respected and have the ability to unite the various groups in the country. Shi'as would respect him because of his lineage from Prophet Muhammad. Sunnis, including Kurds, would follow him because he was Sunni from a respected family. Keeping all the groups under control in Iraq was essential to balance the political and economic interests of the British.

Upon Faisal's arrival in 1921, Gertrude advised him in local questions, including matters involving tribal geography and local business. She also supervised the selection of appointees for cabinet and other leadership posts in the new government.

King Faisal's Coronation
August 1921
Referred to by Iraqis as "al-Khatun" (a Lady of the Court who keeps an open eye and ear for the benefit of the State), she was Faisal's confidante and helped ease his passage into the role, amongst Iraq's other tribal leaders at the start of his reign. He helped her to found Baghdad's great Iraqi Archaeological Museum from her own modest artifact collection and to establish The British School of Archaeology, Iraq, for the endowment of excavation projects from proceeds in her will. The stress of authoring a prodigious output of books, correspondence, intelligence reports, reference works, white papers; of recurring bronchitis attacks brought on by years of heavy smoking in the company of English and Arab cohorts; of bouts with malaria; and finally, of coping with Baghdad's summer heat all took a toll on her health. Somewhat frail to start with, she became nearly emaciated.

Throughout the early 1920s she was an integral part of the administration of Iraq. The new Hashemite monarchy used the Sharifian flag, which consisted of a black stripe representing the Abbasid caliphate, green stripe representing the Ummayad caliphate, and a white stripe for Fatimid Dynasty, and lastly a red triangle to set across the three bands symbolizing Islam, Bell felt it essential to customize it for Iraq by adding a gold star to the design. Faisal was crowned king of Iraq on August 23, 1921, but he was not completely welcomed. Utilizing Shi'ite history to gain support for Faisal, during the holy month of Muharram, Bell compared Faysal's arrival in Baghdad to Huysan, grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

However working with the new king was not easy: "You may rely upon one thing — I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain.”

She briefly returned to Britain in 1925, and found herself facing family problems and ill health. Her family's fortune had begun to decline due to the onset of post-World War I worker strikes in Britain and economic depression in Europe. Gertrude returned to Baghdad and soon developed pleurisy. When she recovered, she heard that her younger brother Hugo had died of typhoid. On July 12, 1926, she was discovered dead, of an apparent overdose of sleeping pills. There is much debate on her death, but it is unknown whether the overdose was an intentional suicide or accidental since she had asked her maid to wake her.

She was buried at the British cemetery in Baghdad's Bab al-Sharji district. Her funeral was a major event, attended by large numbers of people including her colleagues, British officials and the King of Iraq. It was said King Faisal watched the procession from his private balcony as they carried her coffin to the cemetery.

Throughout her life Gertrude's first love was archaeology, thus she had begun forming what became the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, later renamed the Iraqi Museum. Her goal was to preserve Iraqi culture and history which included the important relics of Mesopotamian civilizations, and keep them in their country of origin. She also supervised excavations and examined finds and artifacts. She brought in extensive collections, such as from the Babylonian Empire. The museum was officially opened in June 1926, shortly before her death. After her death, at the Emir's suggestion, the right wing of the Museum was named as a memorial to her.
An obituary written by D.G. Hogarth expressed the respect British officials held for her. He honored her by saying:

“No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigor, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit”.

In 1927 her stepmother, Florence Bell, published two volumes of Gertrude's collected correspondence, written during the 20 years preceding World War I. A stained glass window to her by Douglas Strachan was erected in St Lawrence's Church, East Rounton, North Yorkshire. It depicts Magdalen College, Oxford and Khadimain, Baghdad. The inscription reads:

This window is in remembrance of Gertrude Versed in the learning of the east and of the west Servant of the state Scholar Poet Historian Antiquary Gardener Mountaineer Explorer Lover of nature of flowers and of animals Incomparable friend sister daughter.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Isabella Bird Bishop ~ Explorer

Wearing Manchurian clothing
from a journey through China.
Isabella Lucy Bird (October 15, 1831 – October 7, 1904) was a nineteenth-century English explorer, writer and natural historian. She was born in Boroughbridge in 1831 and grew up in Tattenhall, Cheshire.  As her father Edward was a Church of England minister, the family moved several times across Britain as he received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas' when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.

She was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various diseases. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel. In 1854, her father gave her £100 and sent her to visit relatives in America. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. She detailed the journey anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856. The following year, she went to Canada and then toured Scotland.

Time spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and, following her mother's death in 1868, she embarked on a series of excursions to avoid settling permanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the Isle of Mull. Bird could not endure her sister's domestic lifestyle, preferring instead to support further travels through writing. Many of her works are compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.

She left Britain in 1872, going first to Australia (which she disliked) and then to Hawaii, known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands. While there she climbed Mauna Loa. Her love for Hawaii prompted her second book (published three years later). In 1873 she traveled to Colorado, at that time the newest member of the United States, where she had heard the air was excellent for the infirm. Dressed practically and riding frontwards like a man (though she threatened to sue the Times for saying she dressed like one), she covered over 800 miles in the Rocky Mountains. Her letters to her sister, first printed in the magazine Leisure Hour, comprised her fourth and perhaps most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.

Isabella’s time in the Rockies was enlivened especially by her acquaintance with Jim Nugent, ‘Rocky Mountain Jim’, a textbook outlaw with one eye and an affinity for violence and poetry. "A man any woman might love but no sane woman would marry," she declared in a section excised from her letters before their publication. Nugent also seemed captivated by the independent-minded Isabella, but she ultimately left the Rockies and her "dear desperado." Nugent was shot dead less than a year later.

At home, Isabella again found herself pursued, this time by John Bishop, an Edinburgh doctor in his thirties. Predictably ill, she went traveling again, this time to Asia: Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. When her sister died of typhoid in 1880, Isabella was heartbroken and finally accepted Bishop's marriage proposal. Her health took a severe turn for the worse but recovered by Bishop's own death in 1886. Feeling that her earlier travels had been hopelessly dilettante, Isabella studied medicine and resolved to travel as a missionary. Despite her nearly 60 years of age, she set off for India.

Arriving on the subcontinent in February 1889, Bird visited missions in India, crossed Tibet and then travelled in Persia, Kurdistan and Turkey. The following year she joined a group of British soldiers traveling between Baghdad and Tehran. She remained with the unit's commanding officer during his survey work in the region, armed with her revolver and a medicine chest supplied – in possibly an early example of corporate sponsorship – by Henry Wellcome's company in London.

Featured in journals and magazines for decades, she was by now something of a household name. In 1892, she became the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society. She was elected to membership of the Royal Photographic Society on January 12, 1897. Her final great journey took place in 1897 when she traveled up the Yangtze and Han rivers which are in China and Korea, respectively. Later, she went to Morocco where she traveled among the Berbers and had to use a ladder to mount her black stallion, a gift from the Sultan. She died in Edinburgh within a few months of her return in 1904, just shy of her 73rd birthday. She was still planning another trip to China.

"There never was anybody," wrote the Spectator, "who had adventures as well as Miss Bird."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nellie Bly ~ Daring just the same!

Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922) was the pen name of American pioneer female journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She remains notable for two feats: a record-breaking trip around the world in emulation of Jules Verne's character Phileas Fogg, and an exposé in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within. In addition to her writing, she was also an industrialist and charity worker. Her name was meant to be Nelly Bly, but her editor wrote Nellie Bly and it stuck.

Born as Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran's Mills, PA she was nicknamed "Pinky" for wearing that color as a child. Her father, Michael, began as a modest laborer and mill worker. He then bought the mill and all the land around his family farmhouse. He eventually owned so much land that the town was named Cochran's Mills. Her mother, Mary Jane, stayed at home and raised her stepsons and stepdaughters. As a teenager Elizabeth changed her surname to Cochrane, apparently adding the "e" for sophistication. She attended boarding school for one term, but dropped out because of a lack of funds. In 1880, Nellie and her family moved to Pittsburgh. A sexist column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch prompted her to write a fiery rebuttal to the editor with the pen name "Lonely Orphan Girl." The editor was so impressed with her earnestness and spirit that he asked the man who wrote the letter to join the paper. When he learned the man was Elizabeth he refused to give her the job, but she was a good talker and persuaded him. Female newspaper writers at that time customarily used pen names, and for Elizabeth the editor chose "Nellie Bly", adopted from the title character in the popular song "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster.

Nellie focused her early work for the Dispatch on the plight of working women, writing a series of investigative articles on female factory workers. But editorial pressure pushed her to the so-called "women's pages" to cover fashion, society and gardening, the usual role for female journalists of the day. Dissatisfied with these duties, she took the initiative and traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. Still only 21, she spent nearly half a year reporting the lives and customs of the Mexican people; her dispatches were later published in book form as Six Months in Mexico. In one report, she protested the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticizing the Mexican government, then a dictatorship under Porfirio Díaz. When Mexican authorities learned of Bly's report, they threatened her with arrest, prompting her to leave the country. Safely home, she denounced Díaz as a tyrannical czar suppressing the Mexican people and controlling the press.

Burdened again with theater and arts reporting, Nellie left the Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1887 for New York City. Penniless after four months, she talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper, the New York World, and took an undercover assignment for which she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.

After a night of practicing deranged expressions in front of a mirror, she checked into a working-class boardinghouse. She refused to go to bed, telling the boarders that she was afraid of them and that they looked crazy. They soon decided that she was crazy, and the next morning summoned the police. Taken to a courtroom, she pretended to have amnesia. The judge concluded she had been drugged.

She was then examined by several doctors, who all declared her to be insane. "Positively demented," said one, "I consider it a hopeless case. She needs to be put where someone will take care of her.” The head of the insane pavilion at Bellevue Hospital pronounced her "undoubtedly insane". The case of the "pretty crazy girl" attracted media attention: "Who Is This Insane Girl?" asked the New York Sun. The New York Times wrote of the "mysterious waif" with the "wild, hunted look in her eyes", and her desperate cry: "I can't remember I can't remember.”

Committed to the asylum, Nellie experienced its conditions firsthand. The food consisted of gruel broth, spoiled beef, bread that was little more than dried dough and dirty undrinkable water. The dangerous patients were tied together with ropes. The patients were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. Waste was all around the eating places. Rats crawled all around the hospital. The bathwater was frigid, and buckets of it were poured over their heads. The nurses were obnoxious and abusive, telling the patients to shut up, and beating them if they did not. Speaking with her fellow patients, Nellie was convinced that some were as sane as she was. On the effect of her experiences, she wrote:

“What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? Here is a class of women sent to be cured. I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.

…My teeth chattered and my limbs were …numb with cold. Suddenly, I got three buckets of ice-cold water…one in my eyes, nose and mouth.”

After ten days, Nellie was released from the asylum at The World's behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and brought her lasting fame. While embarrassed physicians and staff fumbled to explain how so many professionals had been fooled, a grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting Nellie to assist. The jury's report recommended the changes she had proposed, and its call for increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections. They also made sure that future examinations were more thorough so that only the seriously ill actually went to the asylum.

In 1888, Nellie suggested to her editor at the New York World that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days into fact for the first time. A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days' notice, she boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began her 24,899-mile journey.

She brought with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials. She carried most of her money (£200 in English bank notes and gold in total as well as some American currency) in a bag tied around her neck.

The New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat the time of both Phileas Fogg and Nellie. Bisland would travel the opposite way around the world. To sustain interest in the story, the World organized a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” in which readers were asked to estimate her arrival time to the second, with the Grand Prize consisting at first of (only) a free trip to Europe and, later on, spending money for the trip.

On her travels around the world, Nellie went through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in Amiens), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. The development of efficient submarine cable networks and the electric telegraph allowed her to send short progress reports, though longer dispatches had to travel by regular post and were thus often delayed by several weeks.

Nellie traveled using steamships and the existing railroad systems, which caused occasional setbacks, particularly on the Asian leg of her race. During these stops, she visited a leper colony in China and she bought a monkey in Singapore.

As a result of rough weather on her Pacific crossing, she arrived in San Francisco on the White Star liner Oceanic on January 21, two days behind schedule. However, World owner Pulitzer chartered a private train to bring her home, and she arrived back in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, at 3:51 p.m.

"Seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after her Hoboken departure" Nellie was back in New York. She had circumnavigated the globe almost unchaperoned. At the time, Bisland was still going around the world. Like Nellie, she had missed a connection and had to board a slow, old ship (the Bothina) in the place of a fast ship (Etruria). Nellie’s journey was a world record, though it was bettered a few months later by George Francis Train, who completed the journey in 67 days. By 1913, Andre Jaeger-Schmidt, Henry Frederick and John Henry Mears had improved on the record, the latter completing the journey in less than 36 days.

In 1895 Nellie married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman, who was 40 years her senior. She retired from journalism, and became the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers such as milk cans and boilers. In 1904, her husband died. In the same year, Iron Clad began manufacturing the steel barrel that was the model for the 55-gallon oil drum still in widespread use in the United States. Although there have been claims that Nellie invented the barrel, the inventor is believed to have been Henry Wehrhahn, who likely assigned his invention to her. (US Patents 808,327 and 808,413). Nellie was, however, an inventor in her own right, receiving US patent 697,553 for a novel milk can and US patent 703,711 for a stacking garbage can, both under her married name of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. For a time she was one of the leading female industrialists in the United States, but embezzlement by employees forced her into bankruptcy. Forced back into reporting, she covered such events as the Women's Suffrage Convention in 1913, and stories on Europe's Eastern Front during World War I.

In 1916 Nellie was given a baby boy whose mother requested Nellie look after him and see that he become adopted. The child was illegitimate and difficult to place since he was half-Japanese. He spent the next six years in an orphanage run by the Church For All Nations in Manhattan.

As Nellie became ill towards the end of her life she requested that her niece, Beatrice Brown, look after the boy and several other babies in whom she had become interested. Her interest in orphanages may have been part of her ongoing efforts to improve the social organizations of the day.

She died of pneumonia at St. Mark's Hospital in New York City in 1922, at age 57.] She was interred in a modest grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Louise Arner Boyd ~ Explorer

Louise Arner Boyd (September 16, 1887 – September 14, 1972) was an American explorer of Greenland and the Arctic, who wrote extensively of her explorations. In 1955 she became the first woman to fly over the North Pole, privately chartering a DC-4 and crew that included aviation pioneer Thor Solberg.

Born in San Rafael, CA to John Franklin Boyd and Louise Cook Arner, owners and heirs to the Bodie Gold Bonanza of 1877, Louise grew up in Marin County, San Francisco and the hills of Oakland playing and competing with her two older brothers, Seth and John. The Boyds were leading citizens of the era and their children's early years, though privileged and relatively carefree, included a well-rounded education that was punctuated every summer by an extended stay on their ranch in the Oakland Hills. It was here where Louise and her brothers rode horses, explored Mt. Diablo, fished, hunted, camped and generally led a rugged and adventurous life. When Louise was a teenager, both of her brothers died from heart disease within a few months of each other. Her parents were devastated and began to lean heavily on Louise for care and comfort. It was at this time that they bequeathed to the City of San Rafael their former gatehouse and some of the family property as a memorial to their two sons … the Victorian-style building is now the home of the Marin History Museum. Upon the death of her parents in 1919 and 1920, Louise inherited the family fortune after caring for her parents in the last few years of their lives.

With her inheritance Louise could control her own destiny and indulge her intrepid spirit developed during her active California childhood where she rode horses and competed and played with her two older brothers. She began to travel in the early 1920s, and on a trip to Norway in 1924 she cruised out to sea and saw the Polar Ice Pack for the first time. This experience proved instrumental in her life and she immediately began planning her own Arctic adventure.

In 1925 she was presented to the King and Queen of England and soon after in 1926 she chartered the supply ship Hobby which had been used by famous explorer Roald Amundsen, for a hunting and filming trip to the Arctic. She gained international notoriety for her exploits (and hunting of polar bears) and was dubbed by newspapers around the world, as the, “Arctic Diana” and “The Girl Who Tamed the Arctic”.

In 1928 she was planning a second pleasure trip aboard the Hobby when it was learned that the famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had recently disappeared in his own attempt to find and rescue the Italian explorer Umberto Nobile. Louise offered her services and the ship to the Norwegian government to search for Amundsen, saying, “How could I go on a pleasure trip when those 22 lives were at stake?” Although she traveled about 10,000 miles across the Arctic Ocean, she found no trace of him. Nevertheless, the Norwegian government awarded her the Chevalier Cross of the Order of Saint Olav. "She was the first American woman to receive the order and the third woman in the world to be so honored."

Louise was probably best known for leading a series of scientific expeditions to the east and north-east coasts of Greenland in 1931, 1933, 1937 & 1938 (sponsored by the American Geographical Society). She described the 1933 expedition in her 1935 book The Fiord Region of East Greenland. An area near the De Geer Glacier was later named Louise Boyd Land.

In August 1934, after being elected as a delegate to the International Geographical Congress in Warsaw, Poland Louise set out on a 3-month journey across the Polish countryside photographing and recording the customs, dress, economy and culture of the many ethnic Poles and Russians in the newly formed nation. The journey, by car, rail, boat and on foot took her first from Lviv to Kovel (these towns are in the Ukraine today), and then to Kobrin, Pinsk, Kletsk, Nesvizh and Slonim (these towns are in Belarus today). She finished the journey in Vilno. Her travel narrative was supplemented with over 500 photographs and published by the American Geographical Society in 1937.

The knowledge she had gained on her numerous expeditions to Greenland and the Arctic became very valuable after World War II broke out. The United States government requested that she not publish a book she was writing based on her 1937 and 1938 expeditions. Instead she was sent at the head of an expedition to investigate magnetic and radio phenomena in the Arctic, and in 1941 she organized an expedition for the National Bureau of Standards) chartering the Effie M. Morrissey and paying for the ship and crew herself as well as for the food and supplies. The expedition and its findings were helpful in the war effort and she received an official commendation from the National Bureau of Standards for her work. During the remainder of the war she worked on secret assignments for the U.S. Department of the Army." Her earlier book that had been held from publication, The Coast of Northeast Greenland, was published in 1948, after the war had ended. In 1949 she received the Department of Army Certificate of Appreciation.

Later in life Louise was an active and well-known Marin figure and hostess while serving as a member of the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Symphony. She accumulated many academic honors, receiving an honorary law degree from the University of California, Berkeley and from Mills College. Louise was the second woman ever to receive the Cullum Medal of the American Geographical Society and in 1960 was the first woman to be elected to their board. She was made an honorary member of the California Academy of Science. Near the end of her life, Louise made some bad investments and had already spent much of her fortune outfitting and chartering her many explorations. Eventually she had to sell the family home in San Rafael and all her furniture. She died in San Francisco on September 14, 1972.