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“Well, I’ve lived near eighty years and I’ve read about it, but I never seen a woman in pants before”

In the 1910s and 1920s, the Naturalist William Beebe worked with men and women and to a great extent, treated them equally. The women were adventurous, bold, and progressive in their outlook on their gender during a time when the liberation of women was just emerging. These were professional women, recruited to Beebe’s expeditions for their professional skills.

Arcturus Staff in Galapagos

Beebe employed a number of women as specialists for the Department of Tropical Research. At least one reporter asked Beebe about this.

“What does [William Beebe] think of women in exploration?

“‘If it were feasible I would have my entire scientific party made up of them, just as readily as not,’ he smiles in reply. ‘Fine minds are as necessary in modern research exploration as find courage. It is easier to find fine women than fine men.'”ii

But of course Beebe favored women for more than just their scientific work. He married several, and between and during his marriages had affairs with several more. He loved to dance and hold and attend parties and was a distinctly sociable man.

In his account of the Harrison Williams Expedition, Beebe wrote: “From behind a crag of grey-blue tufa, came one of the girls, swimming lazily, surrounded by all the marvelous fish, with herons and gulls watching her from the nearby lava, and frigates dipping low in flight t see what new fellow islander this was. It was a surprise to realized that she was a mere human, and not what the pool demanded–a mermaid.iii

Here we can only speculate which one of the girls he meant. Perhaps it could have been any of them.

They dressed the part, favoring, trousers for the practicality, and as the men did, when suitable, bathing suits for work in hot climates and water.

Trousers were unusual on women then. A old British resident of San Cristobal Island (then called Chatham Island) visited the staff on the Noma in 1923. On disembarking, he said, “Well, I’ve lived near eighty years and I’ve read about it, but I never seen a woman in pants before.i

i William Beebe, Galapagos: World’s End, New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1923, p. 189.

ii Gene Cohn, “Women Plan to Chart Port of ‘Missing Ships’ And Rob Sargasso Sea of Secret,”Winston Salem Journal, November 16, 1924.

iii William Beebe, Galapagos: World’s End, New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1923, p. 326.

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