Women in Antarctica

As in most things in the world, women have been left behind due to their “fragile state” and the need to bear and then care for children.

Here is the story of the first women to see, explore, and interact Antarctica. Most were companions of the men they came with but some were there as true contributors as well.

In 1839, the first woman to see Antarctica was aboard the boat, Sabrina. She had been marooned on Campbell Island for 4 years and saved on an expedition boat. Sabrina was shipwrecked after reaching Antarctica on the way back. This woman’s name was never known…

Marie Stopes, a UK feminist and a botanist. She begged and pleaded to go with Robert Scott but was denied. She wanted to find fern fossils to prove Antarctica used to be part of a temperate zone. Fossils were found in Scott’s tent upon his death. While she never made it down there, she did get to do research on the continent.

Betsy Rasmussen was the wife of a captain. There is some controversy as another woman is listed on a historical plaque but they do know that a woman was on Deception Island.

Caroline Mikkelsen was a Norwegian who came down in 1935 to accompany her husband. She was thought to be the first person to touch the continent but in 1996 it was determined that the place she touched was actually an island.

Mathilde Wagner came in 1937, accompanying her husband and actually touches the continent.

Edith Ronne accompanied her husband as an interpreter as English wasn’t her native language. She gets her friend to come along as well – Jennie Darlington. Their husbands had a falling out though so the women stopped talking as well even though their purpose of being down there was companionship. Jennie leaves 3 months pregnant.

Maria Klenova, a Russian who comes not as a wife but as a marine biologist!

There was lots of bigotry against women coming down of course as could be seen in headlines and quotes of the era.

In November 1969, the first women arrived at the South Pole. Men had landed on the moon earlier in the year…

Mary Alice McWhinnie wasn’t allowed on shore for 9 years until she became head of science at McMurdo along with another woman.

Michelle Raney was the first woman to winter at the pole as a physician in 1979.

Ann Peoples was the first woman to have a major managerial role with Berg Field Center, doing research and rescue regulation in 1986.

Dianne Patterson was the first leader of a station – Mawson Station from 1987-1988.

Jane Phillips was in charge of the South Pole Winter Station for 1993-1994 season. It was the first tine that 3 women were in charge of all the U.S. stations.

The Brits were behind in their incorporation of women, sending their first woman down in 1994. The first woman to winter was in 1997.

Jerri Nielsen, was the doctor at the South Pole Station, when she found a lump in her breast during the middle of winter. She treated herself with materials that were airdropped as there typically are no flights between March and August in Antarctica due to the extreme ice, weather, and darkness. When conditions were deemed safe, a rescue mission came and extracted her. She beat her breast cancer, but unfortunately it came back a few years later and she passed away from it as it spread throughout her body.

Anne Bancroft was the first woman to ski to the North and South Poles.

On November 12, 2009, 40 years of women was celebrated at the South Pole.

It’s estimated that women make up 30 to 35 percent of the Antarctic population but there’s a guess that it’s higher.

 

 

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