International Women's Day 2018: Adventurous Women

March 7, 2018 | M. Elwood

Comments (3)

Aloha_Wanderwell_publicity_photoWhen I was trying to decide on a topic for this year's International Women's Day post, I stumbled across Aloha Wanderwell. I can't believe I was unaware of this Canadian adventurer with the most amazing name ever.  

Aloha Wanderwell was born in Winnipeg in 1906. It will not surprise you to learn that her birth name was not Aloha; that came later. She was born Idris Galcia Welsh and became Idris Glacia (sic) Hall upon her mother's remarriage in 1909. At this time Idris and her mother Margaret relocated to Vancouver Island where her stepfather, Herbert Hall was a wealthy rancher. When Hall was stationed in Europe during World War I, his family followed him, living in England, Belgium and France. After Herbert died at Ypres, Margaret sent the high-spirited Idris to boarding schools in the hopes that she would learn to be more ladylike. It did not work. 

At 16, Idris responded to an advertisement calling for someone with "brains, beauty, and breeches" to accompany Captain Walter Wanderwell on expeditions. He was looking for a "good-looking, brainy young woman who is as clever a journalist as her appearance is attractive" who should "forswear skirts — and incidentally marriage — for at least two years, and be prepared to ‘rough’ it in Asia and Africa". Idris fit the bill and Captain Wanderwell immediately changed her name to Aloha Wanderwell. According to Aloha, her mother legally adopted Walter and he became her brother and guardian. Between 1922 and 1927, Walter led an around the world motoring tour. Aloha worked as driver, filmmaker and translator and became the first woman to drive around the world. Walter and Aloha married in 1925 — apparently to avoid Walter's arrest for transporting a young woman across state lines for an immoral purpose. They had two children and remained married until Walter's murder in 1932.

Aloha continued to travel and make films which have been preserved by the Academy Film Archive. She died in 1996 at 89.

Learn more about Aloha Wanderwell in this biography:

Aloha wanderwell

Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer by Christian Fink-Jensen and Randolph Eustace-Walden


 Other books about female adventurers:

Ada blackjack

Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven


In 1921, Iñupiat Ada Blackjack was a destitute single mother who needed money to care for her ailing son. She was hired as a cook and seamstress by a  group of four men heading to remote Wrangle Island to claim the land for Great Britain. The expedition was organized by celebrity adventurer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who provided the inexperienced team with only six months of rations believing that they would be able find enough game to survive for a year. The ship that was expected to meet them never arrived and in desperation, three of the men left to get help. They were never heard from again. Blackjack and an ailing member of the expedition were left behind. She cared for him for six months until his death. Although she had no previous experience hunting, she taught herself to trap and shoot, keeping herself and the expedition's cat Victoria alive until they were rescued in August 1923.

Far traveler

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown


Thought for years to be a fictional creation, archaeologists have recently unearthed evidence that Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir existed. Born in Iceland in 960, she travelled to Greenland with Eirik the Red, then to Vinland (present day Labrador) with her husband Thorstein and his brother Leif Eiriksson. After Thorstein's death, she remarried and led an attempt to establish a settlement in Vinland where she lived for three years and gave birth to the first European child in the New World. Later, after converting to Christianity, she walked from Iceland to Rome for an audience with the Pope to share her experiences.  

Polar adventures

The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame: A Life of Louise Arner Boyd by Joanna Kafarowski


This blue-blooded society woman fell in love with the far north in the 1920s and used her wealth to explore and lead expeditions in the Arctic.

Woman in the desert

A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert by Gertrude Bell


After becoming the first woman to graduate from Oxford with a first class honours degree in Modern History, Bell began travelling the world, climbing mountains and becoming fluent in multiple languages. Bell spent many years in the Middle East where she participated in archaeological digs, mapped remote areas and guided British soldiers through the desert during World War I. Following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, she acted as a liaison between the British government and Arab leaders.

Woman who mapped labrador

The Woman who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard by Mina Hubbard, diary introduced and edited by Roberta Buchanan and Bryan Greene; biography by Anne Hart

Her husband had died on an expedition to Labrador in 1903. When Hubbard heard that a member of the ill-fated trek (whom she blamed for her husband's death) was organizing a new campaign to complete the journey, she formed her own competing company. Not only did Hubbard's group win the race, she became the first white woman to cross Labrador.

Enjoy International Women's Day!