It was such a pleasure to have the privilege of presenting My Last Continent at the Women’s Museum of California as part of its Second Sunday Author Series: Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories program. Although the narrator of My Last Continent is a female penguin researcher, women are relatively new to Antarctica — the first woman to set foot on the continent didn’t do so in 1935.
Still, women are a big part of Antarctic history; they made it possible for the explorers, all men, to be away for years at a time. (Check out the book Polar Wives for a fascinating look at the lives of the women behind the polar explorers.)
It took a long time for women to become part of Antarctic research and exploration in their own right. The first woman to land on Antarctica, mentioned above, was the wife of a whaling captain. The first women to winter on the continent, in 1947, were the wives of expedition members. And even the first woman to work for the U.S. Antarctic Program, during the 1969-70 season, was there with her husband.
Yet by 1974, the U.S. base McMurdo Station welcomed the first female chief scientist, and now one-third of the scientists and support staff at McMurdo are women. We still have a long way to go, but it’s great to see this trend.
And this year has seen an increasing spotlight on women working in Antarctica. And, as part of an initiative to bring women scientists together, a women-only expedition to Antarctica will depart for the continent this December. In addition to science, tourism brings many women scientists, researchers, and naturalists to Antarctica as well.
For some fantastic reading about women in Antarctica, check out the short story “Sur” by Ursula K. LeGuin…one of my favorite short stories ever, and a brilliant glimpse, albeit fictional, into women’s lives in the Antarctic.