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Harriet Chalmers Adams

Updated on September 28, 2013

Harriet Chalmers Adams - Foremost Woman Explorer of Her Time

Harriet Chalmers Adams, the first president of the Society of Woman Geographers (founded in 1925) was regarded as the foremost woman explorer of her time.

Having decided to follow the trails of Columbus and the conquistadors, she traveled to almost every Latin American country that had ever been under the dominion of Spain or Portugal.

She had many articles published in the National Geographic magazine and lectured widely. Serving as a war correspondent for Harper's magazine in 1916, Harriet was the only woman allowed to visit the trenches in France.

I 'discovered' Harriet in my adulthood when I moved to Stockton, CA, a small town in Central California. There was a bust of her in the main library, and I became curious to learn more about her. Who knew that this would be the spark that would lead to my lifetime fascination with women explorers, travelers and adventurers!

(Photo Credit: LOC/Public Domain)

Harriet Chalmers Adams
Harriet Chalmers Adams
Harriet Chalmers Adams
Harriet Chalmers Adams

Harriet Chalmers Adams - A Brief Biography

Harriet Chalmers Adams was an American explorer, writer and photographer from Stockton, California, USA. During her life she traveled through South America, Asia and the South Pacific. In the early 1900s her accounts of her travels were published in National Geographic. She was also a frequent lecturer, using her own color slides and movies to enhance her talks.

Adams' first major expedition was a three-year trip around South America. She and her husband, Franklin Adams, visited every single country in South America and even crossed the Andes on horseback. Regarding that journey, the New York times wrote that she "reached twenty frontiers previously unknown to white women." On subsequent trips she retraced the steps taken by Christopher Columbus' early discoveries in the Americas and crossed Haiti on horseback.

Harriet was also a war correspondent for Harper's Magazine in Europe during World War I. She and Franklin also toured eastern Bolivia during a second trip to South America.

From 1907 to 1935, she wrote twenty-one articles for the National Geographic Society that featured her photographs, including "Some Wonderful Sights in the Andean Highlands" (September, 1908), "Kaleidoscopic La Paz: City of the Clouds" (February, 1909) and "River-Encircled Paraguay" (April 1933). She wrote on Trinidad, Surinam, Bolivia, Peru and the trans-Andean railroad between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso.

Ironically enough, in Harriet's time women were not allowed to join the National Geographical Society as full members. Harriet took of the cause for the recognition of female explorers, and helped launch the Society of Woman Geographers in 1925. She then served as its first president through 1933. .

It has been estimated that Adams traveled more than a hundred thousand miles during her explorations. The New York Times wrote "Harriet Chalmers Adams is America's greatest woman explorer. As a lecturer no one, man or woman, has a more magnetic hold over an audience than she."

Harriet died in Nice, France, in 1937, at age 62. Her obituary in the Washington Post called her a "confidant of savage head hunters" who never stopped wandering the remote corners of the world."

(Photo Credit: Stockton.Lib.Ca.US)

I've wondered why men have so absolutely monopolized the field of exploration. Why did women never go to the Arctic, try for one pole or the other, or invade Africa,Thibet, or unknown wildernesses? I’ve never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount; never felt a fear of danger; never lacked courage to protect myself. I’ve been in tight places and have seen harrowing things.

Stockton, CA - Home of Harriet Chalmers Adams

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Works by Harriet Chalmers Adams

Harriet Chalmers Adams was not only a tremendous traveler, but a very prolific writer. She wrote many articles for National Geographic, which is somewhat ironic in that, as a woman, she could not become a member of the National Geographic Society! Visit your local library or used magazine dealer to find out more about the travels of Harriet Chalmers Adams!

"Picturesque Paramaribo." National Geographic 18 (June 1907): 365-73

"East Indians in Trinidad." National Geographic 18 (July 1907): 485-91

"Along the Old Inca Highway." National Geographic 19 (Apr. 1908): 231-50

"Peru's Unknown Montana." Tropical and Subtropical America 1 (May 1908): 167-72

"Some Wonderful Sights in the Andean Highlands." National Geographic 19 (Sep 1908): 597-618

"Cuzco." National Geographic 19 (Oct 1908): 669-89

"Kaleidoscopic La Paz." National Geographic 20 (Feb 1909): 119-41

"The First Transandine Railroad from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso." National Geographic 21 (May 1910): 397-417

"A Solenodon Paradoxus Brandt." New York Zoological Society Bulletin 41 (Sep 1910)

(With Franklin Adams) "The Liberation of Bolivia." Review of Reviews 47 (Jan 1913): 67-78

"Snapshots of Philippine America." World's Work 28 (May 1914): 31-42

"Go Home and Look for Work." Harpers Weekly (August 29, 1914)

"Iguazu, Niagara's Mate." Bulletin of the Pan American Union 39 (Sept 1914): 364-77

"Star-Spangled Banner Guardians." World Outlook (Feb 1915)

"Uncle Sam's White Magic." World Outlook (April 1915)

"Espana Pacifica y Prospera." World's Work (Oct 1915)

"Sidelights on Latin-American Trade." World Outlook 1 (Nov 1915)

"Pathfinders and Placemakers." World Outlook 2 (Apr 1916): 2

"The Women of the Other Americas." Ladies Home Journal 33 (Oct 1916): 15, 102-110

"Sliding off the World's Roof." Ladies Home Journal 33 (Nov 1916): 13, 86-90

"Wonderful Falls of Iguazu." The Sister Republics (Dec 1916)

"In French Lorraine." National Geographic 32 (Nov 1917): 449-518

"Rio de Janeiro in the Land of Lure." National Geographic 38 (Sept 1920): 165-210

"Grand Canyon Bridge." National Geographic 39 (June 1921): 645-50

"Volcano-Girded Salvador." National Geographic 41 (Feb 1922): 188-200

"A Longitudinal Journey thru Chile." National Geographic 41 (Feb 1922): 219-73

"Our Andean Adventures." Wide World (Mar 1924): 461-70

"Adventurous Sons of Cadiz." National Geographic 46 (Aug 1924): 153-204

"The Truth about Spain and Primo de Rivera." Review of Reviews 71 (Jan 1925): 69-72

"Across French and Spanish Morocco." National Geographic 47 (Mar 1925): 327-56

"Altitudinal Journey through Portugal." National Geographic 52 (Nov 1927): 567-610

"Barcelona, Pride of the Catalans." National Geographic 55 (Mar 1929): 373-402

"Cirenaica, Eastern Wing of Italian Libia." National Geographic 57 (June 1930): 689-726

"Madrid out of Doors." National Geographic 60 (Aug 1931): 225-56

"River-Encircled Paraguay." National Geographic 63 (Apr 1933): 385-416

"Madeira the Fluorescent." National Geographic 66 (July 1934): 81-106

"European Outpost: The Azores." National Geographic 67 (Jan 1935): 34-66

Harriet Chalmers Adams in the Gobi Desert

Harriet Chalmers Adams in the Gobi Desert
Harriet Chalmers Adams in the Gobi Desert

Works About Harriet Chalmers Adams

Harriet Chalmers Adams was, and continues to be, a popular subject for writers. Many of her experiences are chronicled in the works referenced here. Learn more about Harriet Chalmers Adams - the premier woman explorer of her time!

Adams, Mildred. "Up and Down the World." The Woman’s Journal n.s. 15 (Jan 1930): 12-14

Brown, C.B. "Far-traveled Woman." Sunset 36 (Apr 1916): 39

Crosby, Susan. Harriet Chalmers Adams. Thesis, San Joaquin Delta College, Stockton, California, May 1983.

Davis, M. Kathryn. The Forgotten Life of Harriet Chalmers Adams: Geographer, Explorer, Feminist. Masters Thesis, California State University, San Francisco, April 1995.

Downing, Margaret B. Article in Jacksonville, Florida, Sunday Times Union (May 10, 1914).

"Harriet Chalmers Adams, Our Fabulous Foremother." California History Magazine, (Mar 1, 1987): 32-3

Howard, Eric, article in a series, "Famous Californians," San Francisco Call-Post (June 16, 1923), reprinted in the Stockton Daily Herald (June 19, 1923).

James, Edward T. Ed. Notable American Women, 1607-1950. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Lawrence, Walter F. "A Lady of Pan-America." Midpacific Magazine (Aug 1913).

Martin, V. Covert. Stockton Album: Through the Years. Stockton, CA: Siard Printing Company, 1959.

Society of Woman Geographers. In Memory of Harriet Chalmers Adams. Washington, D.C.: 1938.

"South America through a Woman’s Eyes." San Francisco Chronicle (Aug 12, 1906): 8

Tinling, Marion. Women into the Unknown. Greenwood Press, Inc., 1989

Tisdale, Blanche. "California Woman’s Saddle Trip through Central and South America." San Francisco Chronicle (Oct 27, 1907): 3

Tisdale, Blanch. "A California Woman among the Indians of Pagaonia and Tierra del Fuego." San Francisco Chronicle (Nov 3, 1907)

Wharton, Elna H. "A Woman Turns Geographer." The Forecast, America’s Leading Food Magazine (July 1930).

Who Was Who in America, Volume 1, 1897-1942. Chicago: The A.N. Marquis Company, 1942

An obituary appeared in the New York Times, on July 18, 1937.

Clippings of a number of articles by and about Harriet Chalmers Adams can be found in the Harriet Chalmers Adams scrapbooks located in the Stockton-San Joaquin Public Library in Stockton, California.

YOUR thoughts About Harriet Chalmers Adams?

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    • profile image

      cmadden 

      5 years ago

      An interesting woman - a conversation with her would never be boring!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      What a fascinating lady. I love learning about strong pioneer women who blazed the trail for us today.

    • snazzify lm profile image

      Katie Harp 

      6 years ago

      blessed by a squid angel :) <3

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      6 years ago

      cool

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      This lens is introduction of the astonishing lady to me. Thank you very much!

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 

      6 years ago

      I absolutely LOVE all of your lenses.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I had never heard of her before, but she sounds like an amazing woman. I would love to be able to go back and travel more in South America. I loved Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and some of the wooden buildings in Paramaribo looked like they hadn't had a lick of paint since she was there when I was working there in the 1990s. Excellent lens, lensrolled and featured on my One Hundred Years Ago lens, and Blessed by an angel.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      There were some adventurous women out there. I've been a great admirer of Gene Stratton Porter for her conservation efforts in the same time period as Harriet Chalmers Adams.

    • juliannegentile profile image

      Julianne Gentile 

      7 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio, US

      I really enjoyed learning about her. I've never read about the female explorers before. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      lensrolled to my 'Unsung Heroes' lens

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      Amazing story, when women just didn't do that!

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 

      7 years ago

      Interesting lady! I think one reason there were so few female explorers was lack of money - compared to male explorers, few were independently wealthy or could find acceptable jobs to support themselves as they traveled. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

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