How Explorers Harriet Chalmers Adams and Sylvia Earle Discovered New Frontiers
The hall of famous American explorers isn't just lined with the faces of men. Two women in particular, Harriet Chalmers Adams, an adventurer as every bit as daring as Indiana Jones, and Sylvia Earle, the female Captain Nemo of undersea exploration, both transformed the way we view our world and the way culture views women.
Harriet Chalmers Adams
According to SanJoaquinHistory.org -- a site that covers notable people from the Central Valley in California -- Harriet's adventures began in Stockton, California, a town in the Central Valley, where she was raised. In 1883-84, her Scottish engineer father took the eight-year-old Harriet on a horseback riding trip across California, and the thrilling adventure made a lifelong impression on the girl.
After marrying Franklin Adams (another engineer), she and her new husband embarked on a three-year trek through every country in South America. Over the next 40 years, she would explore all Spanish and Portuguese-related countries. She then expanded her explorations to Siberia, Haiti, Turkey, North Africa, and Sumatra.
Remarkably, she was one of the first reporters, of any gender, to cover the front during World War I, and she was the only woman allowed access to the trenches. She covered the brutality and development of the conflict with fearlessness.
"National Geographic" and "Harper's Magazine" published many feature stories about Harriet's adventures, and she became a national figure. She often embarked on national speaking tours in which she showed slides from her travels and spoke about her remarkable experiences.
Harriet was an American treasure: not only did she enrich American cultures with her speaking tours, but she kept America informed about one of the most important conflicts in American history during her time in the trenches of WWI.
Although the National Geographic Society did not admit her as a member because she was a woman, she was granted admission to the Royal Geographic Society in Britain in 1913. In 1925, she established the Society of Women Geographers in the United States and encouraged women to pursue their dreams with fearlessness as she did.
When she died, the New York Times called her "America's greatest woman explorer."
Sylvia Earle, a Modern Day Captain Nemo
If you've read the classic novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," by Jules Verne, you will remember Nemo, the adventurous underwater sea-captain who commands the Nautilus and spends his life exploring the deepest depths of the ocean.
That's essentially what Sylvia Earle did, and still does today: she is one of the greatest explorers under the sea that the world has ever known.
The New Yorker and The New York Times call Dr. Sylvia Earle "your deepness." The Library of Congress her a "living legend." She is also an "explorer-in-residence" for the National Geographic Society.
Earle has led more than a hundred expeditions and logged more than 7,000 hours underwater, including leading the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project in 1970; participating in ten saturation dives, most recently in July 2012; and setting a record for solo diving in 1,000-meter depth.
A saturation dive means the diver is compressed once to work safely at deep depths -- hundreds of feet, maybe even thousands in rare cases -- for days, even weeks at a time, and then they are decompressed once to return to the surface. In other words, if you've ever wondered what it's like to live under the sea, just ask Sylvia Earle.
Her goal hasn't just been to have a little fun exploring the deep blue. She's been doing it to make the world a better place for both ocean life and humankind. She has been working on, according to National Geographic, "a global network of areas on the land and in the ocean to safeguard the living systems that provide the underpinnings of global processes."
Her solo dive to 1,000-meters (3,280 feet) tied the record for solo diving, set by her then husband Graham Hawkes, and she became the first woman to dive that deep in a solo dive.
When the New York Times interviewed Hawkes, he was asked what it was like to dive so deep into the ocean, and he explained it this way:
"As you go down in a vehicle, the ocean goes from light blue, through dark blue, to indigo, to blackness," he says, his hand tracing the arc of descent as he lounges in his boat, clad in jeans and sneakers. "It's a beautiful transition. If you're really lucky, you get into a blackness that is really black and then cut out all the lights and fall through a bioluminescent cloud of plankton."
"Sylvia calls it falling through stars," he adds, referring to Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, a prominent marine biologist who is his former wife and continuing partner in business and adventure.
"Movies like 'The Abyss' and 'Jaws' make people think the ocean is threatening," Mr. Hawkes continues. "It's not. It's very tranquil. Afterward you get yanked out into blinding sprays, waves and a heaving ship. But down there it's peaceful. You never want to come back. Ever since my first dive, I've gone back every chance I get."
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