These days it’s not uncommon to hear about a girlfriend who’s backpacking solo throughout Asia or Europe, or hear that another woman has broken a world record for this, that or the other. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the grand scheme of things, us girls have come a long way and while there’s always room for improvement, there’s much to be celebrated. What better day to celebrate our achievements, than International Womens Day!
From those who defied conventions, inspiring many on their awe-inspiring journeys, to those who defied gravity and broke through glass ceilings… read on to be inspired by some women who truly changed the game.
Homegrown Aussie, Jessica Watson, was the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. At the age of 16, she braved some of the most remote oceans for 210 days. Faced with wild weather, she and her pink boat survived seven knockdowns and braved 10-metre waves. For her efforts, she took out the title of Young Australian of the Year (2011) but after being dubbed ‘Australia’s newest hero’ by the then Aussie PM, she disagreed, saying she was simply an “ordinary person who had a dream, worked hard at it and proved that anything is possible”.
Another true blue Aussie for the list, Alyssa, at age 19, broke the record to be the youngest Aussie to summit Mt Everest and she did it from BOTH the North and South sides. It was her third attempt at the feat, though she was faced with devastating natural disasters during the first two attempts. She’s a true inspiration, with a no fuss, no frills attitude and quiet determination, she even tackled the gruelling Kokoda track at age 8. She’s also got the 20 highest peaks in Australia and Mt Kilimanjaro in her repertoire (which she climbed at age 14)!
Recognised as one of the world’s leading climbers, Steph has a long list of accolades under her belt. She has a handful of incredible ‘female first’ ascents, like the free climb of Salathe Wall (almost 1km high), Torre Egger and the Diamond on Longs Peak to name a few. On top of these climbs, she’s a total sucker for ‘flying’. She skydives, wingsuit glides and is a base jumper, averaging 200-300 jumps per year! She’s also extremely vocal about self-empowerment and preaches the bountiful rewards of living a simple life.
Jeanne was somewhat the 18th century French version of Mulan. Back in 1760s, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe during a 3-year expedition. Due to gender restrictions for the crew, Jeanne was prohibited from boarding the boat as ‘Jeanne’… so she bound her breasts and became Jean. She was allegedly ‘dating’ the naturalist on board, Philibert Commerson, and so boarded the boat as his valet/assistant. But according to Captain Bougainville, she was an expert botanist herself. What an absolute boss.
Hester’s story is an awesome one. At 27, Hester managed her uncle’s London home and acted as his ‘society hostess’ where she became renowned for her beauty and conversational skills. Shortly after her uncles’ death and an alleged disappointment in her love life, she packed up and embarked on a long sea voyage. After losing her belongings in a shipwreck while en route to Cairo, Hester snubbed the mandatory veil required of females and slipped into the attire of a Turkish man. Throughout her travels, she carried a sabre, rode an Arabian stallion and was prophesied to wed the new messiah. She garnered such a celebrity status that when she visited churches, they were cleared of visitors and reopened exclusively to her. After receiving a medieval manuscript to a hidden treasure, she became the first person to conduct research and modern archaeology in to the Holy Land of Palestine. In her older years, she lived in a monastery and gave sanctuary to hundreds of refugees in what is now Lebanon and assumed authority over the surrounding districts.
Elizabeth Cochran AKA Nellie Bly, is an American journalist renowned for shattering the glass ceiling. Her record breaking round-the-world trip in 72 days and shocking exposé of a mental asylum are the most notable of her successes. She entered the world of journalism after submitting a passionate response to a newspaper article claiming that girls were only ‘good for’ birthing children and housekeeping. She was invited to write another article for the paper and backed it up with a cutting article calling for reform on divorce laws. After complaints of her being ‘too controversial’, she was reassigned to cover fashion, gardening, etc. so, naturally, (after a brief stint in Mexico, where she was forced to flee for criticising the government) she agreed to fake lunacy to investigate the brutality and neglect of the Blackwell’s Island Asylum. After successfully exposing them and enacting reform, she pitched the round-the-world trip to her publisher and triumphed over his push-back, claiming she would need a chaperone and excessive luggage. Her trip around the world took her through Europe and Asia and all she took with her was a single rucksack. On her travels she also bought a monkey in Singapore because, why not.
Junko was the first woman to reach the summit of Mt Everest and the first woman to ascend all Seven Summits (highest peaks on every continent). Junko began her climbing career while in her teens and she later formed the LCC (Ladies Climbing Club) after graduating from university. She founded the club to combat male exclusivity in the sport, with some guys refusing to climb with her and others claiming she was only in it to find a husband. The LCC gained traction and became a ‘home’ for many female climbers in Japan. Later down the track, while searching for her Everest Expedition sponsors, she was repeatedly knocked back and was told that she should be raising children rather than raising funds. Taking matters into her own hands, she cut costs by recycling car seats to patch up or waterproof equipment, made her own sleeping bags from goose feathers and received support from local school students who collected unused packets of jam for the trip. Later in life, she worked to preserve mountain environments on a global scale, minimising waste and human impact around the world.
Grace Drummond Hay
Grace was the first lady to circumnavigate the globe by air. Her feat saw her boarding the first transatlantic flight for a civilian passenger zeppelin (a blimp looking aircraft) which was a 21 day trip. Her article glamourised aviation and brought much attention to air travel. She continued to report on air travel and therefore garnered even more attention to the industry. As a famed journalist, she continued to report in war zones such as modern Ethiopia and China.
Amelia was the second person and first woman to ever fly solo across the Atlantic. She also holds the same title for the Pacific Oceans. In achieving this, she faced prejudices and financial hurdles but was a seasoned pro at defying conventions. As a youngster, she climbed trees and hunted rats with a rifle. She also kept newspaper clippings of women who were ‘making it’ in a mans world. She famously said “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others”.
Valentina was the first woman to fly in space. Which she did at age 26! Prior to orbiting in space, Valentina came from humble roots, with her family considered peasant-class, she ‘broke away’ by finding a hobby in skydiving. Triumphing over the 400+ applicants to have the opportunity, she careened into space in June of 1963. Post-space, she became an engineer and politician, becoming a member of various international organisations such as the World Peace Council.