Eliza Scidmore has made her debut appearance on LibriVox.
I discovered 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.
Seeing Eliza’s work pop up on LibriVox came as a surprise because I’d previously found none of her books available. I’d love to narrate a couple of her books myself. My favorite is her first book on Alaska, which has some lyrical passages.
The selection on LibriVox seemed odd: a speech Eliza gave in July 1893 at the International Geographic Conference in Chicago. She spoke on Alaska, and the address was later printed as an article in National Geographic. For some reason, that issue of the magazine was recorded for LibriVox.
The geographers, like many other professional groups, held their conference that year to coincide with the Columbian Exposition — better known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Eliza was at the fair, reporting for Harper’s Bazaar on Japan’s exhibits.
She was also represented in the Women’s Building in a library of 8,000 books written by women. Three of her titles were included. Her book Jinrikisha Days in Japan, now a classic of travel literature, had been published two years earlier. Also on display was her first book, Alaska and the Sitkan Archipelago.
That first Alaska book, published in 1885, launched Eliza on the path as a globetrotting author of travel books. (Check out my video on her inaugural trip to Alaska, a voyage that made history when the ship became the first ever to sail into Glacier Bay.)
Around the time Eliza went to Chicago for the 1893 expo, her latest book had just been released, a followup guide to Alaska. It was issued by Appleton’s, a U.S. publisher of travel guides. Very comprehensive, it remained a standard guide to Alaska well into the 20th century.
By the 1890s, Eliza’s reporting in Alaska had gained her wide recognition as an expert on the region. Leading scientists in Washington took note of her work, and after she joined the newly established National Geographic Society they elected her the first women on its board of managers. Eliza later had a mountain peak and a glacier named for her.
The list of her co-authors in the LibriVox recording of the magazine included leading scientists, geographers, and “Alaska hands” such as Henry Gannett, Marcus Baker, and A.W. Greeley. Eliza’s status as a board member made her their peer at National Geographic.