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A Warmer Climate for Women in Antarctica
by Ellyn Hament

In 1935, Caroline Mikkelsen, wife of a Norwegian whaling captain, became the first known woman to set foot, briefly, in Antarctica—but not the first person. A man had stepped onto the continent more than a hundred years earlier, and men had begun the "heroic era" of Antarctic exploration decades before. It’s only recently that women have arrived, literally and figuratively, on The Ice.

The first women to winter on the continent, half a century after the first men, were Americans Edith Ronne and Jennie Darlington, wives of Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition members. Writing about her 1947 adventures in My Antarctic Honeymoon, Darlington lamented: "Taking everything into consideration, I do not think women belong in Antarctica."

Photo: women at McMurdo
   
  Women researchers relaxing at McMurdo Station.
   

She wasn’t alone in this sentiment. For centuries, many men (and women) believed that Antarctica’s punishing environment would be too tough for "the weaker sex" to endure. Some people also believed women would crumble in a crisis, fight with each other, complain of boredom, or instigate sexual encounters. In the twentieth century, the argument was added that there were no facilities for women. These attitudes were enough to keep women out of Antarctica for a very long time.

In the 1950s, only one woman, a Russian marine geologist named Marie V. Klenova, made it ashore. Russian women had sailed on whaling ships in Antarctica’s oceans earlier in the century, paving the way for the country’s female scientists. Klenova joined a Soviet oceanographic team on a Russian icebreaker in 1956, mapping unchartered areas of the Antarctic coastline and coming ashore periodically at a Russian base. Eventually, Klenova’s research helped form the first Antarctic atlas, published by the Soviet Union.

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