Time has not been kind to the legacy of Louise Arner Boyd. If you have heard of her at all it is probably as an American heiress and socialite whose journeys around the Arctic between 1926 and 1955 are regularly dismissed in polar histories as being mere pleasure cruises not worthy of attention. Joanna Kafarowski challenges us to re-evaluate that view in her carefully researched biography, retelling the story of each of Boyd’s eight major Arctic voyages in turn.
Self-financing millionaire explorers were not uncommon in the Arctic of the early 20th century (Ellsworth and Wellman are both examples) but Boyd was the first woman to organise, outfit and lead her own expeditions. While the enthusiastic pursuit of game hunting in some of the earlier expeditions may be distasteful to the modern perspective, Kafarowski makes clear the worthy geographical, scientific and cultural achievements of Boyd’s later journeys.
She was the first woman to travel to Franz Josef Land, she took part in the international search for Amundsen around Svalbard in 1928, she made pioneering explorations of the fjord systems of the east coast of Greenland and generated a vast collection of film and photography from across the Arctic Region (indeed, research conducted during the Boyd expeditions continues to be cited in academic papers today). Most importantly, despite being faced with scepticism and sexism from the outset, Boyd earned the respect of her polar peers, the first woman to be accepted into the exclusive world of Arctic exploration on purely her own merits.
By producing the very first authoritative biography of this shamefully ignored polar explorer, Kafarowski has done an important service to polar history. It is to be hoped that it marks the beginning of the elevation of Lousie Arner Boyd to her rightful place in the record of Arctic exploration.
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