Category Archives: National Geographic

Eliza Scidmore, First National Geographic Woman Explorer

Eliza Scidmore is best known, if at all,  for her role as the earliest visionary of Washington’s cherry trees. She was also an intrepid traveler. And the National Geographic Society considers her its first female explorer.

The Geographic’s blog recently featured some of its pioneering women. I kicked off the series with a piece  about  Scidmore.

Scidmore was admitted as a member of National Geographic in 1890, two years after its founding. The Society’s leaders elected her corresponding secretary in 1892, making her the first female board member.

She won the scientists’ respect especially for her writings on Alaska, a place not yet known to most Americans.

The United States had owned Alaska only 16 years when Scidmore went there for the first time in the summer of 1883. Mail steamers, which made monthly circuits up and down the Inside Passage, offered the only means of getting to and from Alaska.

Scidmore traveled aboard the Idaho. Here’s a picture of the ship.

The “Idaho,” anchored at Carroll’s Wharf in Juneau in 1887. (Source: Alaska State Library)

That voyage made history.

Scidmore, already a young newspaper correspondent for a number of years, reported on the month-long journey. The highlight came when the Idaho ventured off the known route and sailed into the upper reaches of Glacier Bay.

The captain, James Carroll, had heard stories of the bay’s magnificent glaciers from local Indians, who hunted in the area, and from John Muir, who had explored the area by canoe a few years earlier.

Curious, Carroll decided to push north through the icy, uncharted waters in hopes of seeing the glaciers. He guided the ship to about an eighth of a mile from the front of the massive glacier he later named for John Muir.

So Scidmore and her fellow passengers were Glacier Bay’s first tourists.

She repeated the journey the following summer, again writing about the trip. She expanded her newspaper dispatches into a book-length narrative of her travels, Alaska: Its Southern Coast and the Sitkan Archipelago.

Published in 1885, the book is now considered the first guidebook on Alaska. It became popular when an Alaska cruise industry sprang up at the end of the 19th century.

Scidmore returned to Alaska at least half a dozen times, reporting for several newspapers and magazines — including the fledgling National Geographic.

 

Here’s a home-made video I made describing her pioneering 1883 journey. (Some of the photos are representative only, and a sharp reader in Alaska pointed out I mistakenly used a different ship named the Idaho.)

Scidmore’s works also include a much more comprehensive version of her 1885 book,  Appleton’s Guide-Book to Alaska.

Today, in recognition of her early expertise on the area, Scidmore has landmarks in Alaska named for her: Mount Ruhamah and Scidmore Glacier and Bay.

Geographic Writer

In a 25-year affiliation with the National Geographic Society, Scidmore published about a dozen articles in the magazine, as well as photographs. She was probably the first woman to have photos in National Geographic Magazine, and also helped the editor acquire images from other sources in the Far East.

My online article describes her article in the September 1896 issue reporting on a deadly “earthquake wave” that hit the northeast coast of Japan that June. It killed 20,000 people and wiped out entire fishing villages.

In her article, Scidmore introduced American readers to a Japanese word that we now use commonly in English: tsunami.

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Filed under Alaska, Eliza Scidmore, Historical Travel, Japan, National Geographic

LibriVox Features Eliza Scidmore, on Alaska

Eliza Scidmore has made her debut appearance on LibriVox.

I discoverNGcovered LibriVox a couple of years ago and am now a big fan. It’s a free online service of audio books recorded from titles in the public domain. The concept is especially wonderful because all the books are recorded by volunteers. The readers are people from around the world. A big, beautiful universe of book lovers.

LibriVox is great for easing my resistance to gym workouts on the treadmill. I’ve found it’s also a nice, soothing way to “read” in bed on a winter night before falling asleep.

I’ve been working my way through some of the classics I missed. So far: Middlemarch (tough to absorb in audio of mixed narrators, so I followed along in a paperback), several Edith Wharton novels and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the reader was brilliant, quite theatrical in his reading). A recent listen was one of my all-time favorite books, Willa Cather’s My Antonia. Also have on my download list some works by John Muir and the British travel writer Isabella Bird. Continue reading

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Filed under Alaska, Biography, Books, Eliza Scidmore, Historical Travel, National Geographic, U.S. History, Women's History

A ‘Pen Pal’ History Buff in Japan

Ichiro Fudai at home in Hanamaki, Japan

This is Ichiro Fudai. We’ve never met. But Ichiro and I have corresponded online since he learned about my book project on Eliza Scidmore through a TV program that aired during my research trip to Japan in 2013. Ichiro contacted me about a connection in his hometown of Hanamaki.

Ichiro, who has visited the United States and has excellent command of English, lives in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture. A close friend of Eliza Scidmore late in life, Dr. Inazo Nitobe, hailed from there.

Trained as an agronomist, Dr. Nitobe became a statesman and worked for the League of Nations in Geneva. That’s where Eliza spent her final years. She socialized with Nitobe and his American-born wife, Mary. Continue reading

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Filed under Biography, Eliza Scidmore, Japan, National Geographic, Research

Eliza Scidmore and Earthquakes in Japan

Last Friday a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck in the seabed of the Pacific Ocean about 150 miles off the northeastearn coast of Japan. It caused severe shaking, but no reported deaths, along a coastal area known as Sanriku.

That’s near the region devastated in March 2011 by the catastrophic 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed about 19,000 people and caused meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Aftermath of earthquake and tsunami along Japan’s Sanriku coast, 1896 (Photo from “National Geographic”)

Sanriku lies in an area of the world prone to earthquakes because of the underlying plate tectonics. More than a century ago, Eliza Scidmore reported on the aftermath of a disastrous earthquake and tsunami that struck the Sanriku coast on the evening of June 15, 1896. Her article appeared in the September 1896 issue of National Geographic.

The 1896 earthquake erupted many miles offshore, triggering a wave of water that swelled as high as 80 feet by the time it hit land in some places.

The news of the disaster was slow to reach Tokyo and Yokohama. Eliza was in Japan at the time, and after reports began filtering in, she wrote an article for National Geographic.

Fishermen who were far out to sea were oblivious to the event when it occurred, she noted. Some later reported feeling only a slight wave passing beneath their boats. It caused little alarm because tremors were common in the region. Returning home the next morning they found the shore littered with their splintered homes and the bodies of their loved ones.

The giant wave of water leveled everything in its path for 175 miles along the coast. More than 20,000 people lost their lives.

Those who survived, Eliza wrote, described how they ran to high ground crying “Tsunami! Tsunami!” (See my article about it on National Geographic’s website.)

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Filed under Eliza Scidmore, Japan, National Geographic

Andrew Carnegie, Eliza Scidmore and the D.C. Historical Society

Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square in Washington, now home to the D.C. Historical Society

Last week the Library of Congress held a seminar on Andrew Carnegie’s legacy of establishing public libraries in the United States and several other countries, beginning in the late 19th century. 

About 1,600 were built in the United States. One of them is at Mount Vernon Square in Washington. Today it houses the offices of the D.C. Historical Society and the affiliated Kiplinger Research Library, where I found some very useful information in the early stages of my research on Eliza Scidmore. 

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Filed under D.C. History, Eliza Scidmore, Library of Congress, National Geographic