Eliza Ruhama Scidmore (1856-1928)

Every age has strong, independent women who are driven to follow their hearts and minds whatever the cost. One such maverick was Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1856-1928). Today she is known best — if at all — for initiating the idea of planting Japanese cherry trees in Washington, D.C.

Yet she was so much more.

Overlooked for a century, Scidmore has been attracting greater attention in recent years, thanks in part to the centennial of Washington’s first cherry trees in 2012.A Path-Breaking Woman

Born just before before the Civil War, Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (1856-1928) rose from modest beginnings to become one  of the most accomplished women of her day. When few woman of her day pursued careers, newspaper society pages routinely reported the comings and goings of “Miss Scidmore.”

Her achievements at that time boggle the mind:

  • prolific writer, who published six books and wrote for many publications
  • intrepid traveler, whose adventures took her to Alaska, Japan, Java, China India, and other places little known to most Americans
  • first female board member of the National Geographic Society, and a contributing writer and photographer for its now-famous magazine (the Smithsonian Institution also has a collection of her photographs)
  • collector of Oriental art, many pieces of which she loaned to U.S. museums
  • international peace advocate late in life

Wide-Ranging Travels

In the summer of 1883, while still in her 20s, Scidmore took a sightseeing trip to Alaska, traveling aboard a mail steamer named the Idaho. That voyage became historic.

A couple of years later, Scidmore went to Japan for the first time. Thus began her long fascination with the country and its culture. Her book Jinrikisha Days in Japan (1891) is now a classic of travel literature.

Eliza’s brother George spent most of his U.S. consular career in Japan, giving her a base for travels across the Far East.

Their mother also spent long periods in Japan living with her son. Today, all three Scidmores are interred at a cemetery in Yokohama.

Cherry Trees on the Potomac

Her love of cherry blossoms led Scidmore to suggest to park officials in Washington that they add some cherry trees to landscaping plans for the new Potomac Park taking shape on formerly marshy ground near the Washington Monument.

The men showed no interest, but Scidmore kept the idea alive in her mind for more than two decades.

She finally saw her dream become a reality on March 27, 1912, when she witnessed the historic event at which First Lady Helen Taft planted the first Japanese cherry tree beside the Tidal Basin in Washington.

Article by Diana Parsell

Books by Eliza Scidmore published by Trotamundas Press:

“Java the Garden of the East”

“Winter India”




Amelia Edwards (1831-1892)

Surprisingly few people have heard of Amelia Edwards. Archaeologists know her as the founder of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, set up in 1882, and the Department of Egyptology at University College London, created in 1892 through a bequest on her death. The first Edwards Professor, Flinders Petrie, was appointed on Amelia’s recommendation and her name is still attached to the Chair of Egyptian Archaeology.

Edwards did more than anyone in the late nineteenth century to encourage interest in ancient Egypt. During a trip along the Nile in 1873, at the age of 42, she was so excited by doing a little amateur digging at Abu Simbel that she returned to England determined to devote the rest of her life to promoting Egyptology as a scientific discipline. She read up on the subject and she taught herself hieroglyphics. In 1877 she published a lengthy account of her trip, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, which was readable, as well as scholarly, and beautifully illustrated with her own watercolours. The book marked a turning point in women’s travel writing by concentrating on the traditionally masculine sphere of history and research and mostly ignoring female domestic life, which Amelia said she had very little opportunity to study.

Abu Simbel drawn by Amelia B. Edwards, 1870, via Wikimedia Commons [public domain].
Abu Simbel drawn by Amelia B. Edwards, 1870. 

Within a decade Amelia Edwards had become such a specialist on ancient Egypt that she was regularly contributing to academic journals. She was also canvassing professional and popular support for excavation and for the systematic and accurate recording of monuments. She had enormous energy and physical stamina as well as a talent for public speaking which was brilliantly displayed in 1889 when she embarked on an extraordinary lecture tour to the United States. For five months she criss-crossed the continent, sometimes speaking to audiences of over two thousand people. When she broke her arm a few hours before a lecture in Columbus she found a surgeon to set the bone and went ahead with the event. She was awarded three honorary degrees from American universities.

Not surprisingly, Edwards’ life is remembered in the context of archaeology. But she was a polymath. The trip up the Nile was a mid-life journey undertaken when she had already made her name as a travel writer with an account of a trek through the Dolomites. Published in 1873, Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys is still one of the best travel books ever published on the region and an exuberant and witty introduction to the glorious beauty of the mountains and their previously isolated communities. Unlike the Alps, the region was not overcrowded with tourists. There were plenty of opportunities for sketching, botany, and mountain-climbing. You might even hear Verdi arias, perfectly performed in a village inn by local tenor. For Edwards, a talented singer herself, this was a bonus.

By the time she made the trip to the Dolomites, Edwards was also a well-known novelist. She wrote articles, poems, and mystery stories for several journals including Charles Dickens’s Household Words, and she was one of the first contributors to the feminist English Woman’s Journal, launched in 1858. Her best-selling novel, Barbara’s History, touches on edgy but popular Victorian themes of bigamy and infidelity, while its eponymous heroine is feisty, well-travelled, and erudite.

Amelia Edwards later became a vice-president of the Society for Promoting Women’s Suffrage. She was one of a number of multi-talented European women who changed the nature of women’s travel writing. Jane Dieulafoy, Ella Sykes, Isabella Bird, Lady Anne Blunt, and Gertrude Bell all contrived in their different ways to break the conventional boundaries of female travel. Whether single or married, they no longer accepted that their interests and writing should be confined to literary and domestic subjects in order to guarantee publication. Although they sometimes differed in their attitude towards the women’s suffrage campaign, they all asserted their right to be taken seriously in the masculine world of science, geopolitics and diplomacy.

Archaeologist? Travel writer? Novelist? Journalist? Musician? Linguist? Fund-Raiser? Feminist? Amelia Edwards was more than equal to any task. After her death, at the age of 60, her cousin, Matilda Betham-Edwards, said that if she had lived longer Amelia would probably have thrown Egyptology to the winds and embarked on a new project with equal success. “Who knows? She might have thrown herself heart and soul into the Women’s Rights agitation … Not only might we have had in her a powerful statesman and party leader, but a lady Prime Minister.”

Article by Penelope Tuson

“A Thousand Miles up the Nile- part I” by Amelia Edwards

“A Thousand Miles up the Nile- part II”




Emily Ruete (1844-1924)

Emily Ruete was born Sayyida, Princess of Zanzibar, in 1844. Zanzibar was then ruled by Omani Arabs and had grown rich from the slave trade and ivory from continental Africa and spices from the island of Zanzibar. They had spread their influence and swahili language as far west as Kisangani on the Congo river. It was a time of european traders and missionaries, harbingers of colonization and crusades against the slave trade. The Princess eloped with a German trader and moved to Germany, having been rejected by her family in Zanzibar. In the book “Memoirs of an Arabian Princess of Oman and Zanzibar”, which she wrote to leave a record of her history for her children, she describes life in the Zanzibar royal palace and plantations, life in the harem, traditions, palace intrigues and overthrows, slaves, the status of women etc. This is a great book for anyone interested in Zanzibar or the history of Eastern Africa.




Mollie Molesworth


Mollie Molesworth was a very talented painter who died in a car accident in India when she was only 28 years old. The diary she made of a journey from Srinagar to Leh, the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh in 1929, is a beautiful legacy she left with many delightful watercolours that show her great skill as a painter. The diary was kept by her family for many years before it was finally published by Trotamundas Press.

51KbfTcpVuL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgA ladakhi diary





Anna Brassey (1839-1887)

Annie, Lady Brassey was a very popular Victorian author. She travelled with her husband, Thomas and their four children aboard their yacht, the Sunbeam. Their eleven month sailing trip around the world in 1876-7 was inmortalized in Anna’s book “A Voyage in the Sunbeam”. The book ran through many English editions and was translated into many other languages. During her travels, lady Brassey collected many objects of the different cultures they visited. Her large collection of ethnographic and natural history objects were originally shown in a museum at her London house but they were moved eventually to Hastings Museum in 1919. Annie Brassey spent the last ten years of her life mainly at sea. She died suddenly of malaria on the way home from India and Australia in 1887 and was buried at sea at the age of 48.

Caroline Mytinger


caroline mytinger

Caroline Mytinger (1897-1980)

In the 1920’s, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were among the world’s last wild places. Largely unmapped and inhabited by headhunters and cannibals, these jungle islands of the Coral Sea captured the popular imagination as examples of the unknown. Many adventurers went to these remote islands, the least likely of whom were two young American women, Caroline Mytinger and Margaret Warner who set out from San Francisco in 1926 armed with little more than art supplies and a ukelele, used by Margaret to entertain sitters while Caroline painted their portraits. Mytinger and Warner went chasing adventure in the name of science, something rarely done by women at the time, and they did it in the face of universal dissapproval and even terror on the part of their families, who didn’t expect them to come back alive. Not only that, but they had virtually no money and no scientific support or backing. But live they did, and they brought back beautiful paintings and the fascinating stories contained in her  book “Papua New Guinea Headhunt”


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Violet Cressy Marcks  (1895-1970)

Violet Cressy-Marcks was fearless when faced with physical threats. She had already been trekking from Cape to Cairo and had sleighed across the icy fields to Murmansk before going to the rivers and swamps of South America in 1929. In the Amazon she was woken by a snake which bit her below the knee. She grabbed the snake below the head, crawled out from under her mosquito net and went to find a rock to smash the snake’s head. Then proceeded to use a scalpel to cut across the bite, pushing a tablet of permanganate of potash. She travelled around the world many times using all means of transport, from sleigh to canoe, horses, motor car and her own feet. Her extensive interests included archaeology, zoology, ethnology and geography. “Up the Amazon and over the Andes” was the first of her books describing her trips. She was a reporter in Chungking (China) for the Daily Express from 1943 to 1945 and interviewed Mao Tse-tung. After the war her journeys became less strenous.