Librarians and the Society of Woman Geographers

The marketing for my book has begun in earnest! My first presentation is tonight before the American Library Association. My publisher asked me to prepare a 3 minute speech about my book and any stories about librarians that I discovered while researching my book. So here it is!

The Girl Explorers addresses issues of sexism, racism, sexual identity, and gender equality. It tells the story of the early years of the Society of Woman Geographers, an organization that still exists today.

In 1925, four explorers met for tea to discuss their frustration with the all-male Explorers Club. They had been barred from admission because they were women. Blair Niles called it their “indignation meeting.” The women were offended that the president of the Explorers Club had told an audience of students at an all-women’s school that they were unfit to be explorers. He claimed that nothing was more troublesome than a woman on an expedition, except, perhaps, two women. In response, Blair and her friends created an organization to give women scientists, authors, artists, musicians, and geographers a place to socialize when they returned from long journeys abroad.

Early members included Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Margaret Mead, Pearl S. Buck, and Chickasaw dancer Te Ata.

While researching Society members at the Library of Congress, I met Constance Carter, who, in the 1950s, worked for Blair’s ex-husband, Will Beebe, and two members of the Society in Trinidad. She told me how Beebe decorated his field station' yard with Winnie the Pooh sculptures that A.A. Milne had given him. He gauged visitors’ worthiness by whether they noticed the statues. Connie passed with flying colors.

Travel taught Society members to respect other cultures and to portray, with compassion, the people they met. These people were often marginalized by society. For example, Blair exposed the horrors of the French Guiana prison system in her book “Condemned to Devil’s Island.” This publicity led to its eventual closure. Her book, “Strange Brother,” written in 1931, was the first compassionate book about homosexuality and introduced readers to gay profiling.

This compassion was also the hallmark of another member, sculptor Malvina Hoffman, who studied with Rodin. In 1930, the Chicago Field Museum asked her to travel around the world and sculpt 100 people of different races for an exhibit called “The Races of Mankind.” Visitors were impressed with the way Malvina portrayed her subjects with respect and understanding. During the civil rights movement, however, attitudes changed. The exhibit was attacked as racist, and closed. A few years ago, it reopened, and the museum invited guests to decide whether the show was racist under two standards: those of today and the 1930s.

The book ends in 1981, when the Explorers Club votes to admit women and invites astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, to join. She did, but first she joined the Society of Woman Geographers.

I hope the librarians ask me if I am a member of the Society of Woman Geographers. I was invited to join in December! I am so excited to join this group of amazing women!

28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All