Female Firsts: Meet Anna Roosevelt
During Women's History Month, we're celebrating the achievements of women throughout history and spanning the globe. From the pages of The Explorers Journal, we're spotlighting four women who broke boundaries in exploration, research, and science. Let's dig into the past with Anna Roosevelt.
Anna Roosevelt is an archaeologist, author, and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, known for her studies of human evolution and long-term interactions between humans and the environment. She is the former curator at the Museum of the American Indian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum of Natural History. Her discoveries in the Amazon Basin in the 1990s questioned old assumptions in archaeology, eventually leading her to ongoing research in the Congo Basin of Africa, where abandoned diamond mines are offering important gems of another kind--astounding new data.
Check out these excerpted reflections from Anna Roosevelt on breaking the bounds in how we learn about our history on Earth.
"In the Amazon Basin in the 1990s, we discovered evidence that pointed to a different theory about the early settlement of the region. Most scientists thought that its first inhabitants were people from the Andes, but the artifacts we found in Paleo-Indian caves in Brazil suggested something different. Our proof had been loaded onto the primitive boat that would us to the port of Belem, where museum trucks would transport the treasures onward."
"Our collection was below deck, along with a herd of cattle; and we were on the rough wooden platform above them when a storm turned the river into a rushing wall of water. The boat began to lurch back and forth, and it seemed to me that it was going too fast and might turn over. I realized our collections would be ruined, if not lost; and of course, the cattle would not survive. My Brazilian student, who was traveling with me, was frightened. We looked at each other and burst into laughter. I don't know why it struck me as funny--it was an impossible situation; there was not a thing we could do."
"Fortunately, the captain found some high ground with some vegetation on it; the boat precariously waited out the storm and eventually crept on to Belem, arriving just as the sun came up. We sat on the dock waiting for the museum trucks, sipping sweetened milky coffee that the port prepares for the early morning workers. And we all looked at each other and burst into laughter again---it was all okay. I've always been an optimist; I'm always searching for a solution; I can't except the idea that things won't move forward---and in my experience, they always have, even if differently than planned. That is part of being an explorer."
Today there are more than 800 female members of The Explorers Club. Forty years ago, in the spring of 1981, there were none. But efforts were underway to change that. The big announcement was made at the Annual Dinner; and a few months later, five women were elected as members. More were elected later in the fall; and by the end of the year, there were 16 women members of The Explorers Club. All had pushed their bold dreams into solid field research. Check out these images from some of the extraordinary expeditions and accomplishments of these female explorers and iconic Explorers Club members Dr. Sylvia Earle, Kathy Sullivan, Carol Beckwith, and Anna Roosevelt.
In celebration of the Club's 40th anniversary year of female membership, this article is part of a series of short stories from four of the "first women of The Explorers Club," offering rare behind-the-scenes glimpses of their can-do spirit. The series is comprised of extracted interviews conducted in late 2020 for the film, Pathfinders, which premieres Tuesday March 30th at 7pm through The Explorers Club.