In a nation struggling to establish its own identity, all kinds of Americans, for all kinds of reasons, were enchanted with Europe. William W. Stowe tells us in Going Abroad that a European trip, whether extravagant or modest, could serve social advancement, aesthetic enrichment, or personal curiosity. Travel allowed women to shed their familiar surroundings & comfortable personas, adopt new roles, & measure themselves against the European experience.
Some of these female travelers were often also writers. Throughout the 19C, celebrated authors & beginners alike published newspaper columns, magazine articles, guidebooks, travel essays, letters, & novels based on their European journeys. Travel & the writing of it were important, Stowe argues, in molding a peculiarly democratic, yet essentially class-based, sense of personal & group identity. These sources can reveal new ways of understanding 19C Americans' concept of their nation & its place in the world.
Women began to travel in the 19C for many personal & political reasons. Some women sought to further a cause, like missionary work, while others traveled to visit friends & relatives or to satisfy personal curiosities of far away lands. Many women, however, traveled to escape gender oppression in Europe & the US. One form of gender oppression had manifested in scholarly & scientific writing, in which women scholars were not taken seriously. But some women kept journals of their travel experiences.
These women witnessed pivotal historic events of nations struggling for Independence as well as the 1st phases of the political & cultural autonomy of the newly formed nations& states. From the end of the War of 1812, to the end of the century, these women observed the state-making that developed in the 19C & the inequality of their own positions in many societies, not just their own homeland..
European visitors traveling to the US often did not the wilderness they might have anticipated. Old Sturbridge Inc. tells us that more than 3,700 miles of toll roads, were built in New England between 1790 & 1820. Continuing through the 1840s, many thousands of miles of improved county & town roads were constructed as well. The new roads were much better built & maintained, & allowed for much faster travel. In response, the number of vehicles on the roads increased rapidly, outpacing the population.
The most radical changes in the speed, scale & experience of traveling came with the application of newly emerging transportation technologies—the railroad, the steamboat, & the rafts & boats on canals—to American conditions. Beginning with Robert Fulton’s Clermont, which successfully made the journey up the Hudson from New York City to Albany in 1807, Americans developed steamboats to ply both the deeper eastern rivers & the shallower western ones. Although steamboats were sometimes dangerously prone to fires & boiler explosions, they traveled faster, met tighter schedules & could move against the river current far more effectively than rafts & barges. Steamboats vastly expanded passenger travel on the rivers & carried much higher value cargo upstream.
Americans turned as well to the massive infrastructure project of canal building, as the British had done decades earlier. Canals promised far less expensive transportation of farm produce, manufactured goods & passengers, but it was often difficult for them to return profits to their investors. The Erie Canal, traversing the breadth of New York State to connect Albany & Buffalo in 1825, was the great success among American canals. It opened up an enormous agricultural hinterland for trade with New York City & New England. In New England, New York & Pennsylvania, Americans created a vast system of inland waterways that significantly reduced transportation cost.
After 1830, the railroad or, as many Americans at that time said, the “Rail Way,” emerged as the most dramatic of the new technologies of transportation. Its speed & power was unprecedented. With good weather, a good road & rested horses, a stagecoach might manage 8 or 9 miles an hour. The small locomotives of the 1830s, pulling a handful of cars over uneven track, could travel 15 to 20 miles an hour. This was 2x as fast, over long distances, as anything Americans had previously experienced. By 1840, 3000 miles of railroad track had been laid down, most of it concentrated in the Northeast. A trip between Boston & Worcester now took less than 2 hours, & travelers could reach New York City from Boston in less than a day, using both coastal steamship & railway.
It was noted in 1830, that stagecoach lines had spread across the Atlantic coast states, using continual relays, or “stages,” of fresh horses spaced out every 40 miles or so. They made travel, faster, less expensive, & less perilous than it had been. Good roads & stages extended across southern New England, the lower Hudson Valley in New York, & southeastern Pennsylvania. Until the 1830s, Americans seemed relatively unconcerned about the idea of women traveling in public without escorts. Strangers of the opposite sex traveling on stages might even share rooms in inns.
But before 1840, railway travel was both noisy (from the grating & squealing of iron wheels on the tracks) & dirty (from showers of ash & cinders from wood-burning locomotives). But in the next 20 years the railroad, growing ever faster, more powerful & more efficient, would become America’s dominant mode of transporting people & products east of the Mississippi, sweeping away many stage lines & even making some of the canals obsolete.
By 1840, transportation costs had been greatly reduced & travel had become faster by a factor of 5 or more. These changes helped make possible America’s 1st “Industrial Revolution,” the widespread development of commercial agriculture in the Midwest, & a national system of markets & the distribution of goods. Many ordinary Americans could now become travelers for pleasure, & even the pathways of westward migration were becoming faster & safer.
Women visitors on both sides of the Atlantic wrote journals of their experiences often describing the landscape & local social & political aspects of the cultures they visited plus historical events. Many noted the everyday lives of women, their education, & their property rights & marital obligations. giving both empirical observations & subjective impressions from a feminine point-of-view.
The Library of Congress tells us that travel accounts of all sorts—published & unpublished, by women, by foreigners and Americans, written for pleasure, pay, or spiritual expression—can provide a wealth of unusual detail on topics such as manners, clothing, education, childcare, health, regional differences, interpersonal relationships, and political events.
The Library of Congress suggests these authors:
Other 19C Travel Books:
- Atkinson, Lucy, 1820-1863?
- Recollections of Tartar Steppes and Their Inhabitants by Lucy Atkinson. London: J. Murray, 1863.
- Barnard, Anne Lindsay, Lady, 1750-1825
- South Africa a Century Ago: Letters From the Cape of Good Hope (1797-1801) by Lady Anne Lindsay Barnard; edited by W. H. (William Henry) Wilkins. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1910.
- Bird, Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy), 1831-1904
- The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither by Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1883.
- Bly, Nellie, 1864-1922
- Six Months in Mexico by Nellie Bly. New York: American Publishers Corp., 1888.
- Bulstrode, Beatrix
- A Tour in Mongolia by Beatrix Bulstrode. With contributions from David Fraser. London: Methuen and Co., c1920.
- Calderón de la Barca, Madame (Frances Erskine Inglis), 1804?-1882
- Life in Mexico, During a Residence of Two Years in That Country by Madame (Frances Erskine Inglis) Calderón de la Barca. London: Chapman and Hall, c1843; Repr. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1982.
- Cox-McCormack, Nancy, 1885-1967
- Pleasant Days in Spain by Nancy Cox-McCormack. New York: J. H. Sears & Company, Inc., 1927; Copyright not renewed.
- Dixie, Florence, Lady, 1855-1905
- Across Patagonia by Lady Florence Dixie. Illustrated by Julius Beerbohm. London: R. Bentley and Son, 1880.
- Durham, M. E. (Mary Edith), 1863-1944
- High Albania by M. E. (Mary Edith) Durham. London: Edward Arnold, 1909.
- Eden, Emily, 1797-1869
- Letters From India by Emily Eden; edited by Eleanor Eden. With contributions from Frances Eden. 2 volumes; London: R. Bentley and Son, 1872.
- Edwards, Amelia Ann Blanford, 1831-1892
- Egeria, active 4th century-5th century
- The Pilgrimage of S. Silvia of Aquitania to the Holy Places (Circ. 385 A.D.) by Egeria; edited by J. H. (John Henry) Bernard. With contributions from Sir Charles William Wilson. in English only (Latin text omitted); London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1896.
- Fiennes, Celia, 1662-1741
- Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary by Celia Fiennes. With contributions from Emily Wingfield Griffiths. London: Field and Tuer, 1888.
- Forbes, Anna
- Insulinde: Experiences of a Naturalist's Wife in the Eastern Archipelago by Anna Forbes. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1887; Repr. Oxford, New York, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Hale, Katherine, 1878-1956
- Canadian Cities of Romance by Katherine Hale. Illustrated by Dorothy Stevens. New York: George H. Doran, c1922.
- Hayward, Victoria
- Romantic Canada by Victoria Hayward. With contributions from Edward J. O'Brien. Illustrated by Edith S. Watson. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, Ltd.,, 1922.
- Kirkland, Caroline
- Some African Highways: A Journey of Two American Women to Uganda and the Transvaal by Caroline Kirkland. Boston: Dana Estes & Company, 1908.
- Lady, A
- The Englishwoman in Russia: Impressions of the Society and Manners of the Russians at Home. by A Lady. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1855.
- Maitland, Julia Charlotte, -1864
- Letters From Madras, During the Years 1836-1839 by Julia Charlotte Maitland. London: J. Murray, 1846.
- Mazuchelli, Nina Elizabeth, 1832-1914
- The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them: Being a Narrative of Two Years' Residence in the Eastern Himalaya and Two Months' Tour into the Interior, By a Lady Pioneer by Nina Elizabeth Mazuchelli. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1876.
- Moodie, Susanna, 1803-1885
- Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie. London: Richard Bentley, 1852 [Second edition]; Repr. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart (New Canadian Library Edition), 1989.
- Moqué, Alice Lee, 1863-1919
- Delightful Dalmatia by Alice Lee Moqué. New York, London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1914.
- Paula, Saint, 347-404
- The Letter of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella, About the Holy Places (386 A.D.) by Saint Paula & Saint Eustochium; edited by Sir Charles William Wilson. Translated by Aubrey Stewart. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1896.
- Plumley, Matilda (fl. 1845)
- Days and Nights in the East: From the Original Notes of a Recent Traveler Through Egypt, Arabia-Petra, Syria, Turkey and Greece edited by Matilda (fl. 1845) Plumley. London: T. C. Newby, 1845.
- Rijnhart, Susie Carson, 1868-1908
- With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple: Narrative of Four Years' Residence on the Tibetan Borders, and of a Journey into the Far Interior by Susie Carson Rijnhart. Chicago, New York and Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, c1901.
- Rinehart, Mary Roberts, 1876-1958
- Through Glacier Park: Seeing America First with Howard Eaton by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916.
- Routledge, Scoresby, Mrs., 1866-
- The Mystery of Easter Island: The Story of an Expedition. by Mrs. Scoresby Routledge. London : Printed for the author by Hazell, Watson and Viney : Sold by Sifton, Praed & Co., [2nd edition, 1920]; copyright 1919.
- Sartorius, Ernestine
- Three Months in the Soudan by Ernestine Sartorius. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Co., 1885.
- Sheil, Mary Leonora Woolfe
- Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia by Mary Leonora Woolfe Sheil. With contributions from Justin Sheil. London: John Murray, 1856.
- Tucker, Elizabeth S.
- Leaves from Juliana Horatia Ewing's "Canada Home" by Elizabeth S. Tucker & Juliana Horatia Gatty Ewing. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1896.
- Woodman, Abby Johnson, 1828-1921
- Picturesque Alaska: A journal of a tour among the mountains, seas and islands of the northwest, from San Francisco to Sitka by Abby Johnson Woodman. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1889.
- Workman, Fanny Bullock, 1859-1925
- Algerian Memories: A Bicycle Tour over the Atlas to the Sahara by Fanny Bullock Workman & William Hunter Workman. London: T. Fisher Unwin, ca. 1895.
- Atkinson, Lucy, 1820-1863?
See these Works about Women Travelers:
Adams, W. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport), 1828-1891 Celebrated women travellers of the nineteenth century by W. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) Adams. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Lim., 1882; 9th edition, 1906.
Birkett, Dea. Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.
Caesar, Terry. Forgiving the Boundaries: Home as Abroad in American Travel Writing. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Elsden, Annamaria F. Roman Fever: Domesticity & Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Writing. Columbus: the Ohio State University Press, 2004.
Fish, Cheryl J. Black & White Women’s Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.
Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies: Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, November 12, 2004.” American Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1, 2005, p. 17-57.
Robertson, Susan L. Antebellum American Women Writers & the Road: American Mobilities. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Russell, Mary. The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt: Women Travellers & Their World. London: Collins, 1986.
Schriber, Mary S. “Assuming a Public Voice: The Travel Writing of Margaret Fuller & Harriet Beecher Stowe.” Femmes de conscience : Aspects du féminisme américain (1848-1875). Eds. Daniel Royot & Susan Goodman. Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1994, p. 127-148.
Writing Home: American Women Abroad, 1830-1920. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.
Steadman, Jennifer B. Traveling Economies: American Women’s Travel Writing. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.
Stowe, William W. Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture: Princeton University Press, 2017