Petticoats & Saddlebags: timelines of early women explorers, 1700-1900


If you are looking for something to help you celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, why not come on by the library and visit our latest exhibition, Petticoats & Saddlebags: timelines of early women explorers, 1700-1900.

This exhibition showcases the achievements of several women explorers who, in spite of the perceived limitations of their gender, set out to explore new lands and cultures. From the palaces of Constantinople to the jungles of Brazil, over land and sea, they set out by their own means whether for personal benefit, or out of a desire to help others. Armed with their determination and letters of introduction (and the occasional revolver) they were considered the earliest travel writers, tracing their journeys in notes and letters to family and friends back home, observing foreign cultures through a significantly different lens to the men who came before them. The journeys of the four women featured in this exhibition influenced many future adventuresses and challenged the way many viewed not only the world around them, but the roles of women in the modern age.

The women highlighted in this exhibition are:

  • Lady Mary Wortley Montague (1689-1762) who travelled to Constantinople (now Istanbul) with the intent of learning more about a rumoured cure for the deadly smallpox
  • Ida Laura Pfeiffer (1979-1861) who set out after the death of her husband to follow her dreams of seeing the world
  • Marianne North (1830-1890) who travelled with the goal to illustrate plants from each country of the world
  • Isabella Lucy Bird (1931-1904), the first woman to be inducted into the Royal Geographical Society thanks to her extensive exploration and subsequent publications.

It can be difficult to visualise with timelines alone the sheer amount of distance that each of these women covered, so to accompany the physical exhibition we have created a Storymap – an interactive map and timeline of these amazing women’s journeys.  

Location: Reading Room Foyer, Level 2, Barr Smith Library, The University of Adelaide
Until 31st March
Or, visit the Storymap online at





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