Recent Acquistions: Meet Louise Boyd, the Bad-Ass Bay Area Explorer You've Never Heard of

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artist Maëlle Doliveux
Heiress Louise Boyd found arctic exploration far more interesting than Marin high society.

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds every Friday.

The Marin History Museum has a home because of Louise Arner Boyd, and now Boyd is remembered because of the museum.

"There are so many women who are forgotten in history," said Scott Fletcher, the Boyd scholar who is cataloging the collection at the museum, which was once Boyd's childhood home. "Even people in San Rafael who go to Boyd Park don't know her."

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The sole heir to the Bodie Gold Bonanza of 1877, Boyd led five expeditions to the areas surrounding Greenland in the 1920s and 1930s, and was the first woman to fly over the North Pole. She published three books detailing her travels, which included rural Poland. During WWII, Boyd secretly provided the State Department with maps, charts, and photographs which enabled allied pilots and submarines to communicate, among other important intelligence. She also led an arctic expedition for the National Bureau of Standards.

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Boyd signing the globe at the American Geographical Society

In 1938, the American Geographical Society awarded Boyd the Cullum medal, and asked her to sign their globe. "I knew she won the award, but I've never seen a picture of it," Fletcher recounted of his recent $35 eBay find, which he donated to the museum last month, around the 125th anniversary of Boyd's birth. Boyd also received the Norwegian Chevalier Cross of the Order of Saint Olav, and an area of East Greenland was named after her.

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artist Maëlle Doliveux
Boyd is rumored to have killed 19 polar bears in one day.

Fletcher added the photograph to the permanent display of Boyd ephemera at the museum, and also plans to digitize it for an online exhibition. "It is a great image of how this woman was recognized in her own lifetime, only the second woman to achieve this, to sign the explorers' globe, even though it had been around for 40 years."

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artist Maëlle Doliveux
Ice portrait of Boyd

The museum hopes the acquisition will continue to bring greater attention to Boyd, and encourage additional scholarship. Thus far their efforts have inspired a book by artist Maëlle Doliveux, Louise Arner Boyd: The Girl Who Tamed the Arctic. Flectcher worked with nearby Dominican University, which now includes Boyd in their women's studies curriculum.

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artist Maëlle Doliveux
During one expedition, a fire erupted on one of her ships, the Veslekari. The captain had stored dynamite to break ice underneath Boyd's cabin. She was unharmed.

"People should remember Boyd, but Californians should take special pride in this native daughter," Fletcher mused. "Until then, I'll keep promoting what she did and what she accomplished."

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