Series One: Women, Travel & Empire, 1660-1914
Part 4: Women, the Americas and world travel
Part 1 of this project provided travel accounts by women to the various seats of Empire - Africa, Australia, India and Canada. Parts 2 & 3 concentrated on women's perceptions of the 'Orient', with descriptions of life and society in Turkey, the Middle East and South and East Asia. This fourth part concentrates on women's travels to the Americas and on round-the-world voyages. We also include a number of accounts of regions not previously covered in this series. The writings continue to tell us much about 'empire', both by conveying the imperial or anti-imperial attitudes of the travellers, or by exploring post imperial cultures in the Americas.
Frances Trollope, Fanny Kemble and Isabella Bird are perhaps the best known women travellers who have left records of their journeys to the Americas - but there are dozens of equally insightful, but lesser known works and these are reproduced here. For instance:
- Frederika Bremer - Homes of the New World (1853, translated by Mary Howitt)
- Lady Maria Callcott - Journal of a residence in Chile, during 1822 (1824)
- Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming - Fire Fountains, the Kingdom of Hawaii (1883)
- Florence Dixie - Across Patagonia (1880)
- Mary Eastman - Dahcotah; or, Life and Legends of the Sioux (1849)
- Mary Elisabeth Herbert - Geronimo (1872)
- Susette Smith - Sketches of Bermuda (1835)
- Catharine Traill - The young emigrants (1826) and Canadian crusoes (1852)
- Ethel Tweedie - Mexico, as I saw it (1901) and America, as I saw it (1913)
Women travelled for many reasons. Frances Trollope (1780-1863), mother of Anthony, set off for America at the age of 48 to find a fortune, or at least to earn enough money to pay off the family's debts. Her commercial ventures in America didn't prosper, but her writing did. She had a popular and commercial success with Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), which combines picturesque and exact descriptions of the American landscape with a harsh critique of local manners:
". The point where this republican equality was most distressing was in the long and frequent visitations that it produced. No one dreams of fastening a door in Western America; I was told that it would be considered an affront by the whole neighbourhood. I was thus exposed to perpetual and most vexatious interruptions from people who I had often never seen, and whose names still oftener were unknown to me.
. When the visitor entered, they would say, 'How do you do?' and shake hands.
'Tolerable, I thank ye, how be you?' was the reply.
If it was a female, she took off her hat; if a male, he kept it on, then taking possession of the first chair in their way, they would retain it for an hour together, without uttering another word; at length, rising abruptly, they would again shake hands, with, 'Well, now I must be going, guess,' and so take themselves off, apparently well contented with their reception."
The frequent shaking of hands, the familiarity, and use of first names, was something with which she never came to terms. Yet, in addition to her exasperation and condescension, there is also self-deprecation, and she notes that she was locally known as 'the English old woman'.
Her comments on America and Americans can be compared with other countries that she visited. We feature Belgium and West Germany in 1833 (1834); Vienna and the Austrians (1838); A visit to Italy (1842); Travels and travellers: a series of sketches (1846) and an account of her life and work, Frances Trollope, her life and literary work (1895).
Isabella Bird (1831-1904) travelled on doctor's orders. She suffered back pains and insomnia, and she was advised that a sea voyage and a 'change of air' would restore her health. As such, at the age of forty, she travelled to America for the first time to see the wonders of the New World. For the next thirty years she scarcely had time to unpack, visiting Canada, Japan, China, Korea, Tibet, Russia, Persia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaya, and many other places, writing bestselling tales of her adventures. She was the first woman to address the Royal Geographical Society, saw the Japanese invasion of Korea, and crossed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco at the age of seventy. Her writing is notable for its immediacy, which is the result of her basing her books on letters written home to her sister, or on voluminous notebooks compiled at the time.
Of her ascent of the Rockies she wrote:
"From the summit were seen in unrivalled combination all the views which had rejoiced our eyes during the ascent. It was something at last to stand upon the storm-rent crown of this lonely sentinel of the Rocky Range, on one of the mightiest of the vertebrae of the backbone of the North American continent, and to see the waters start for both oceans."
She was similarly inspired by her travels to the Bible lands:
"The Bible is to me now, and I hope for my life, a new book vivified, illuminated, intensified, and its credibility is so marvellously enhanced. It is obvious now how the historians and the prophets came to write as they did, and how the story of the wanderings, emphasized by the great feasts and the bloody ritual of the temple, must have tinged the life and thought of even the dullest Israeli - the crossing of the Red Sea, the weary tramp through the burning desert, the thirst, the longing for the green vegetables of Egypt, the murmurings, the discontent with the light, monotonous food, the rapidity and severity of the judgements of God, the halts by trees and water, then the move into the blazing wastes again, and finally Sinai, and the giving of that law which made the whole world guilty before God."
Seven of Isabella Bird's works are featured here, including:
- The Englishwoman in America (1856)
- Aspects of Religion in the United States of America (1859)
- The Hawaiian Archipelago (1875)
- A Lady's life in the Rocky Mountains (1879)
- Heathen claims and Christian duty (1893)
- A traveller's testimony (1905)
We also include a contemporary life, showing how others saw her.
Ethel Tweedie (1860-1940) set off on her travels following the deaths of her father, her husband and both of her sons. Like many women travellers she challenged conventions and in her first book - A girl's ride in Iceland (1889) - she sparked a "war, on what proved to be a very vexed subject", by championing the right of women to sit astride a horse rather than riding side-saddle. Her perceptions of local cultures and descriptions of the places she visited can be read afresh in A winter jaunt to Norway (1894); Through Finland in carts (1897); Mexico as I saw it (1901); and America as I saw it (1913). We also include Women the world over (1914) by Tweedie, and her autobiography, Thirteen years of a busy woman's life.
Other authors well represented here include Selina Bunbury (Life in Sweden; with excursions in Norway and Denmark; Amelia Edwards (Sights and stories; Untrodden peaks and unfrequented valleys), Fanny Kemble (Journal of a visit to the United States; Records of girlhood; Records of later life; Further records; A year of consolation; Journal of a residence on a Georgia plantation), Harriet Martineau (Society in America; Suggestions towards the future Government of India), and Mary Walker (Through Macedonia).
In addition, we feature a number of accounts of round-the-world travels such as Anne Bowman's Travels of Rolando; or, a tour round the world (1854), and Annie Brassey's A voyage on the Sunbeam, our home on the ocean for eleven months (1878). The project is completed with further accounts of women's experiences in Fiji, the Himalayas, the Tartar steppes, India, Siberia and Finland.