Celebrating Influential Women in the Outdoor Community

By Stacy Boyce, Girls Who Hike South Carolina Ambassador

Top Row: Terry Tempest Williams, Freya Stark Bottom Row: Clare Marie Hodges, Donna Carpenter, Harriet Chalmers Adams Photos courtesy of: National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress), John Murray, Yosemite Research Library, Burton Snowboards, Terry Tempest Williams

Top Row: Terry Tempest Williams, Freya Stark
Bottom Row: Clare Marie Hodges, Donna Carpenter, Harriet Chalmers Adams
Photos courtesy of: National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress), John Murray, Yosemite Research Library, Burton Snowboards, Terry Tempest Williams

Grandma Gatewood, and …. 

Ask me who some of the iconic or influential women in the outdoor world are, and all I can give you is Grandma Gatewood.

Do you know any others? If you’re stumped, there’s a good reason.

Women have only recently begun to move into the outdoor arena and often with little fanfare. In fact, it’s only been in the last two generations that women have made serious moves into the outdoors. 

The topic of women in the outdoors hasn’t been discussed much until recently. In the last few years, brands like REI and magazines like Outside magazine have begun to shine the light on women in the outdoors. Last year REI launched it’s Force of Nature initiative to get more women outdoors and Outside devoted a whole issue to women in the outdoors. As one of the largest women’s organizations in the outdoor arena, we should also be doing our part of further this conversation and find women we can all look up to in the outdoors. 

So, let’s take a moment to celebrate some of the women who cracked the glass door to the outdoors. These women are trailblazers. They forged into unknown territory, literally and figuratively, and showed everyone that women could hold their own and make significant contributions to the traditionally male-dominated outdoors. This list is by no means an exhaustive. It’s merely a place to start and an attempt to find some women who may inspire us. So, here’s to these five women and the many others opening opportunities for all of us....

Harriet Chalmers Adams | Explorer + Travel Writer

Adams was born in 1875 in California. As a child, she traveled horseback through the Sierra Nevada with her dad and toured Mexico. That first taste of adventure was just the beginning. When her husband’s job took the couple to South America, she seized the opportunity to travel extensively across the continent. She traveled to some very remote corners of the continent and took over 3,000 photographs of indigenous tribes and untouched natural beauty. When the couple moved to Washington D.C. almost three years later, Adams’ adventurous spirit landed her a job at National Geographic as writer and photographer. She was one of the first female contributors to the magazine and went on to become a very popular lecturer. 

“I’ve never found my sex a hinderment; never faced a difficulty, which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount; never felt a fear of danger; never lacked courage to protect myself. I’ve been in tight places and have seen harrowing things,” Harriet Chalmers Adams, on how whether her gender was a liability.

Freya Stark | Travel Writer + Ethnographer

Stark is best known for her travels and diplomacy in the Middle East in the early 1900s; a time when few Westerners were in the region. By the time of her death at age 100, she had written 24 books on travel and her life. Her gift was vividly describing people and places; she didn’t shy away from discussing the dirtier side of life (poverty, feuding clans, disease). Her skill at connecting with foreign people and cultures opened a new dialogue between the western and middle eastern worlds. During World War II she worked extensively in the region to promote British interests in the region.

“The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is, and no one is surprised.” Freya Stark, on how she used female stereotypes to her advantage.

Clare Marie Hodges | First female National Park Ranger

Hodges’ career as a National Park Ranger was short-lived but groundbreaking nonetheless. In 1918 she was a school teacher near Yosemite National Park. Due to World War I there was a shortage of able-bodied men across the county, and many traditionally male jobs were being filled by women at the time as a result. Hodges seized this opportunity to work in the park she’d grown up exploring. At the time she was only 18 years old, and the job only lasted one summer. She was the only fully commissioned female ranger for nearly 30 years. Unlike many of the women who served after her, Hodges performed all of the same work as the men. She didn't sit behind a desk. She roamed on horseback across the park, hiked to campgrounds, even confiscated the occasional firearm.

Donna Carpenter | CEO of Burton

Even though her husband founded Burton, Carpenter pursued many different roles in the company and is best known for her advocacy for women in the workplace and outdoor industry. She launched the Burton’s Women’s Leadership Initiative to bring more women into the top levels of the company. Beyond adding more women to the leadership ranks and improving paid family leave, the initiative has resulted in a better design for women’s gear. 

“Power is having the ability to influence, and privilege is having responsibility for others. Use them well and you can make a huge difference in the world.” Donna Carpenter, on why she feels compelled to use her power and privilege to help other women.

Terry Tempest Williams |Author + Outdoor Activist

Williams is best known as an author, having written over a dozen published literary works. However, she doesn’t consider herself a writer; she is an activist and writing is just one of her tools. Much of her work explores the connection between place and person to highlight the importance of conversation and ethical land management. In her most recent book, “The Hour of Land,” Williams explores the possibility that creating public land and national parks is a form of political subversion. 

“I really believe that to stay home, to learn the names of things, to realize who we live among... The notion that we can extend our sense of community, our idea of community, to include all life forms — plants, animals, rocks, rivers and human beings — then I believe a politics of place emerges where we are deeply accountable to our communities, to our neighborhoods, to our home. Otherwise, who is there to chart the changes?” Terry Tempest Williams, on the importance of staying home.

Who are the outdoors women you look up to and admire? Share with us in the comments!

Stacy is AN Ambassador for our South Carolina chapter. To join her local meetups and discussions through the South Carolina chapter, click here.

To become a member of Girls Who Hike, click here.