International Women’s Day: Isabella Bird

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Isabella Bird. Photo credit: Public Domain,


In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I want to tell you about one of my favorite women in history.

Isabella Bird was a writer and explorer in a time when it was not customary for women to travel alone. Born in England in 1831, Bird had a restless disposition and a bad back. In an effort to remedy both, her doctor encouraged her to travel. She ended up traveling vast areas of the world during a time when the areas where she traveled would have been very difficult to access.

She wrote extensive letters to her sister during her travels. These letters were turned into publications and books. Some of my favorite of her travel writings are from her journeys to Hawaii, Colorado, and Tibet. This was when these areas were very wild, and her journeys involved long sea voyages and arduous overland travel on horseback. She also traveled throughout Asia, Australia, and Morocco, and she started a hospital in India.

She was not always what we would consider politically correct, and I imagine even in her own time she probably rubbed some people the wrong way with her headstrong nature. She was fairly famous in her time, with her publications widely read. She became the first woman allowed to join the Royal Geographical Society.

I admire her for her intrepid nature and her desire to see some of the most spectacular locations on Earth in a time when getting there was extremely difficult, despite her ill health and physical discomfort.

She continued to travel throughout her entire life. Isabella Bird died just a few days short of her 73rd birthday in 1904, at her home in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the time of her death she was planning another trip to China.

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