Women Explorers Who Changed The World

We’re celebrating Mother's Day with a vital piece of the exploration puzzle. Women adventurers helped pave the way to today’s discoveries dating back to the 4th century. Their stories show the true resilience of women as they bore discrimination, deadly climates, and fought for opportunities to shape the world. Remember these trailblazers as you visit wonders of the world, stand at a historic monument, or simply hop on your next flight.

Jeanne Baret (1740-1807)

Jeanne Baret

Jeanne Baret is known as the “herb woman”, not to mention the first woman in history to circumnavigate the world. What’s even more fascinating about Baret is she did so disguised as a man. After plotting with her lover, she bandaged her chest and landed a spot on the French expedition from 1766 to 1769. She was eventually exposed and some say she paid for it brutally. Despite this, she’s believed to be responsible for the discovery of hundreds of plants on the voyage and their environment.

Harriet Chalmers Adams (1875-1937)

Harriet Chalmers Adams

Retracing the route of Christopher Columbus and traversing all of Latin America on horseback, Harriet Chalmers Adams also had a knack for storytelling, leading her to a notable career in journalism. Her passion for history and exploration eventually lead her to be the only female journalist allowed on the French frontlines of WWI. When denied entry to the Explorers Club because of her gender, Adams clapped back by helping create the Society of Woman Geographers and served as the group’s president for six years. She’s known as one of the most important adventurers of her time.

Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)

Bessie Coleman

The achievement of being the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license didn’t come easy for Bessie Coleman. After flying schools in the U.S. denied her entry, taking no for an answer wasn’t an option for Coleman. She taught herself French, moved to France, and earned her license from the Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just seven months. She remains known as a pioneer of women in aviation. Coleman rose above the challenges of her era in impressive fashion, not only as a woman but as a black woman.

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971)

The pioneering photojournalist captured history’s darkest and brightest days. This includes the end of WWII, the impact of the depression in the American midwest, and the last photos of Mahatma Gandhi in India just minutes before his assassination. Bourke-White shattered the glass ceiling in her time. Some of her many firsts include having the first cover of Life Magazine and being the first western journalist allowed in the Soviet Union. Most notably, she was there as U.S. troops liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Bourke-White owned the ability to capture authentic human life at its best and worst around the world.

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz (1936-2021)

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz

Think of Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz as a trailblazer for solo female travel. In 1978 she took on the world of exploration as the first woman to sail around the world solo. We can thank her two-year expedition for the discovery of some of the world’s most beautiful islands like Tahiti and the Canary Islands. Her journey started in 1975 when the United Nations declared the year International Women’s Year. The Polish Sailing Association chose to promote themselves by sending a Polish woman around the world to single-handedly sail the seven seas. Long story short, the right woman took on the feat and made history.

Sarah Marquis (1972)

sarah marquis

An incredible adventurer, so much so that she was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year in 2014. There’s no question about Sarah Marquis’ right to that title. Marquis stunned the world when she walked 20,000 kilometers alone from Siberia to the Gobi Desert, into China, Laos, Thailand, and then across Australia. The Swiss explorer’s passion for adventure began as a child when she left with her dog to sleep in a cave and told nobody at just eight years old. She never stopped on that path. Marquis is now an author and speaker, inspiring youth and beyond to better understand human’s relationship with nature through exploration. 

Here’s to the women explorers pushing the limits, changing the world, and shattering glass ceilings in the past, present, and future!