Sunday, October 7, 2018

Women in Antartica


Email from Sue P: 
This from a friend sparked my interest  
Klarius Mikkelsen's landing site: some further notes on the 1935 Norwegian visit to the Vestfold Hills, East Antarctica | Polar Record | Cambridge Core  
Caroline Mikkelsen is widely believed to be the first woman to step on Antarctica, landing on Tryne Island in 1935, in the Vestfold Hills area (now Davis station). Some argue she wasn't the first because it was an island, not the plateau, but she got to Antarctica in an era where women were clamouring to join the heroic era expeditions but were denied, a trend that continued with Mikkelsen not speaking publicly of her journeys to Antarctic until 1995 in order to spare her husband’s feelings (she remarried after her first husband’s death - the one with whom she travelled to Antarctica).  
Ingrid Christensen is considered to be the first woman to have stepped on the Antarctic continent, landing in 1937 at Scullion Monolith. It's a rock formation on the coast between Davis and Mawson station, currently only accessible by air and when doing very remote field work. Christensen sailed to Antarctica 4 times and was integral to the scientific research expeditions she conducted with her husband.*  
*1300 women applied to the 1937 British Antarctic Expedition in 1937, all were denied. Similarly Earnest Shackleton had 3 "sporting girls" apply for his doomed expedition and refused to consider their applications. 25 women applied to the 1929-1931 BANZARE expedition and were all rejected. Women were absent from early Antarctic history because they were denied a place, NOT because of lack of interest and passion .

Thanks, Sue.

Some additional notes and pics by moi: 
  • Caroline Mikkelesen was born in 1906 and died in 1998. 
  • She landed on the Tryne Islands where a marker at Mikkelsen's Cairn can still be seen today. The landing site is an approximately five kilometres from the Antarctic mainland. 
  • Consequently, Mikkelsen is regarded as the first woman to set foot on an Antarctic island. 

Caroline Mikkelsen 

Caroline Mikkelsen 

Caroline Mikkelsen raising the flag of Norway at a cairn on the Antarctic Tryne Islands, 1935. 
  • Ingrid Christensen (1891-1976) made four trips to the Antarctic with her husband on the ship Thorshavn in the 1930s, becoming the first woman to see Antarctica, the first to fly over it, and the first woman to land on the Antarctic mainland. 
  • Since Mikkelsen landed on an Antarctic island, Christensen is considered the first woman to set foot on the Antarctic mainland, in 1937. 
  • In 1931, Christensen and Mathilde Wegger were part of an expedition that made them the first women to see Antarctica. 
  • Australian polar explorer Douglas Mawson wired to the Australian media at having met them on that voyage:
On one occasion, emerging from a belt of sparkling pack, we came upon two vessels lying side-by-side, coaling In a calm ice-girt pool. This prosaic business provoked little interest but as we drew near enough to distinguish those on board, much astonishment was excited by the dramatic appearance on their decks of two women attired in the modes of civilisation. Theirs is a unique experience, for they can make much merit of the fact that they are, perhaps, the first of their, sex to visit Antarctica. 
  • Ingrid Christensen Coast in East Antarctica was discovered and named by Klarius Mikkelsen in 1935. 
  • For her contribution to Norway’s cause in America during the war and for her public efforts, Christensen received Norway’s Knighthood, First Class, Order of St Olav, in 1946. 

Ingrid Christensen (left) and Mathilde Wegger on a voyage in 1931 


Records Forgotten, Then Rediscovered 

In the years after Christensen and Mikkelsen’s respective returns to Europe, much about their voyages was forgotten and their stories largely faded from record. After Mikkelsen’s husband, Klarius, died in 1937, she remarried and subsequently remained quiet about her Antarctic adventures for most of her life.

But in the 1940s and 1950s, when Antarctica was transitioning from an exploration outpost to a region of scientific inquiry, people became concerned with environmental and heritage conservation, and interest renewed in some quarters to find Mikkelsen’s landing site. The log from the Thorshavn described the land surrounding the site, but left a poor description of exactly where the cairn and flag were erected.

In 1960, two expeditioners based out of Australia’s Davis Station in East Antarctica found a small Norwegian flag while in the field. Again, however, the flag’s exact location was not recorded. Other groups similarly stumbled upon the site over the next few decades, but it wasn’t until 1995 — the 60th anniversary of the Mikkelsen landing — that a group from Davis Station decided to track down and finally record the location.

The flag and cairn were found 29 kilometers northeast of Davis Station, where the group confirmed suspicions that the site was actually within the Tryne Islands, some 5 kilometers from the mainland. It’s unclear whether the Mikkelsens realized this or if pack-ice and pressure ridges were such that it appeared that the landing site and mainland were connected. In the world of Antarctic exploration, landing on an island was considered secondary to landing on the mainland, so the first-on-land title was thus bestowed to Christensen and the three other women with her for their 1937 landing. But the honor was posthumous, with the discovery of the Mikkelsen site coming 20 years after Christensen’s death in 1976.

Diana Patterson, who was head of Davis Station in 1995 and a member of the group who rediscovered the Mikkelsen cairn, visited Mikkelsen, then 89 years old, at her home in T√łnsberg, Norway. Patterson said Mikkelsen had clear memories of her Antarctic explorations. She died in 1998.

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