Women writing the Arctic

In spite of the fact that Arctic Studies is a male-dominated field, more and more women write about the Arctic. Jennifer Niven’s bestseller, The Ice Master, tells the compelling story of the ill-fated Karluk, skippered by Captain Bob Bartlett. Her follow-up, Ada Blackjack, is an Arctic survival story about an Inuit woman.

Josephine Diebitsch-Peary (pictured above) was an early Arctic writer with her 1901 book, The Snow Baby, about her daughter Marie Ahnighito Peary, born less than 13 degrees from the North Pole. Josephine’s husband, Admiral Robert Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1909, although his success is disputed. (Bartlett went most, but not all, of the way with him; Peary chose to take his African-American colleague, Matthew Henson instead.)

Josephine herself has been the subject of various long and short studies. According to writer Heidi Hansson, Josephine deliberately brought feminine touches to her Arctic surroundings by celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas and marking birthdays with special meals of auk stew, apricot pie, and Liebfraumilch.

Josephine’s attitudes to anyone who wasn’t white very much reflected those of the day. Thus, she made huge efforts to “civilize” the Arctic environment in which she found herself, adorning her dining table with imported cloths, for instance. She saw the Inuit of Greenland as primitive and did not hesitate to point this out in her own book, My Arctic Journal, published in 1893. The book was well-received by the public and by the critics, although it would not be today.

Josephine was seen as intrepid and courageous but also as someone to whom many turn of the century American women could relate. Josephine carefully constructed her image so that it promoted the Arctic exploration goals of her husband. She is one of many such woman. I’ll introduce you to others in subsequent blog posts.

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