As part of Women's History Month, KQED Pop is highlighting female trailblazers from the Bay Area's past. Meet Louise Arner Boyd.
Being born into Scrooge McDuck levels of money can be one hell of a predicament. On the one hand, you're totally loaded (HURRAY!), but on the other, without a little bit of hardship, how do you ever learn valuable life lessons? Paris Hilton made a reality show about living with working class folk (The Simple Life), Anderson Cooper (heir to the Vanderbilt fortune) put himself in the middle of war zones as a reporter, and, back in the 1920s, Louise Arner Boyd became "The Girl Who Tamed The Arctic."
Boyd was born in San Rafael in 1887, and enjoyed a pretty idyllic childhood bouncing between Marin and the Oakland Hills... until her entire family died (her two brothers from heart disease when she was still a teenager, and her parents while she was in her early-twenties). Faced with a gigantic pile of cash and no one to share it with, Boyd did the least logical thing possible for a fancy socialite of the time; she decided to become an explorer.
At first there were baby-steps; Boyd criss-crossed the country on trains for a while. But an unquenchable thirst for adventure eventually sent her barreling towards the most inhospitable places on Earth with gusto. By 1926, she'd decided to charter a supply ship and pop up to the Arctic, as if Earnest Shackleton ending up stranded in the middle of the Antarctic for months on end wasn't still extremely fresh in everyone's minds.
Not only was Boyd acutely aware of how perilous her explorations were, she actively went towards the danger. In 1928, when she found out that an Italian explorer had gone missing in the Arctic, and so had the Norwegian explorer who had gone to find the Italian one, she volunteered to go rescue both men. She was awarded the Chevalier Cross of the Order of Saint Olav (totally a big deal in Norway) for the 10,000 miles of Arctic Ocean that she searched, but she was ultimately unable to locate either of them. (The Italian survived, the Norwegian did not.)