Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fearless Females of the Edwardian Era

It's now less than a month to the publication of The Family Way, my 12th mystery novel featuring Molly Murphy, female detective in the early 1900s. And since so many people have queried whether a woman of her time could do brave and daring things, I have decided to feature some of the amazing women of her era.

Following last week's feisty female detectives, I'm focusing this week on female explorers, of whom there were too many to mention. When you think how primitive and dangerous travel was at this time in much of the world, and how cheap the lives of women, their exploits are all the more remarkable.
Let's start with Lady Hester Stanhope who went out to the Middle East in 1815, was shipwrecked on Rhodes and adopted the garb of a warrior. She traveled throughout the region, through what is now Syria and Lebanon, making friends with the potentates who ruled it, refusing to wear a veil and instead continuing to dress as a man and move among men. She settled in Sidon in her own hilltop fortress and was the first to excavate an archeological site in the Holy Land.

Gertrude Bell followed in her footsteps, traveling throughout the Middle East, sometimes also disguised as a man and was one of the founders of the modern state of Iraq. She was at the same time as Lawrence and commanded the same amount of respect from the Arabs. In fact it was said she was one of the few foreigners for whom the Arabs of the region showed any affection.

Isabella Bird was a sickly child in Scotland but set off nonetheless for a journey to America, from there to Hawaii, Australia and India. She later traveled to Morocco and rode among the Berbers. She wrote about her travels and became a legend in her own time. She was the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographic Society in 1892.

Delia Akeley was born in Wisconcin in 1972. With her husband she went to Africa and traveled widely. She was one of the first westerners to explore the desert between Kenya and Ethopia, and traveled the Tana River in a dugout canoe (avoiding the hippos)

Later came such figures as Louise Boyd who mounted her own expedition to the North Pole, Amy Johnson who was the first person to fly between London and Australia, and of course everyone knows Amelia Erhard. But to this list should also be added all those brave women who set off across the continent, walking behind a covered wagon, burying children along the way, sometimes burying husbands and continuing on alone.

There were always strong, independent women, who defied convention, faced danger... it's just that we don't hear about them much because history is exactly that.  Written by men about men.


  1. Thank you! Much of our history would have been a whole lot different if it hadn't been for strong women. I have always been in awe of my g-g-g-g-great grandmother. "Wee Granny" was born in Scotland in 1856,had 8 children, buried a husband, and at the age of 74 set out for Utah to join her family. She died at Chimney Rock, but whenever I've thought something might be too hard to try, I remember her. P.S. Really looking forward to the new Molly!

  2. Isabella Bird was amazing. I confess to shuddering at some of the predicaments she found herself in. How could we forget the likes of Beryl Markham, and Karen Dinesen, who were also rugged adventurists?

    When the American Girl dolls first came out they were accompanied with books about each of the girls, with stories of their daily lives. It was brilliant, because for the first time girls could picture themselves in historical situations that were traditionally male-oriented. We need more of your type of historical fiction, Rhys! Thank you.

  3. A favorite of mine is Alexandra David-Néel who foiled the men of history by writing herself of her great trips, including the Forbidden City of Tibet (My Journey to Lhasa).

  4. Love that you mentioned Gertrude Bell..what an amazing woman! I read a terrific bio of her, Desert Queen by Janet Wallach. What an adventuress...

  5. Just signed up to follow you via Google Friend Connect, so that I won't miss any of your posts. I am a fan of your mysteries, with a fascination for the Edwardian era. Perhaps because my mum (born in Scotland) grew up outside of London pre-World War II. I find the women and social issues of that era most interesting and am drawn time and again to books (and movies and tv series) set in the UK from World War I to World War II.

    I'm a librarian and blogger. You can see my posts at: